Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What if I told you…

...that to me a most wonderful day is the most simplest. I’ve come to really enjoy my little apartment with its antique table, green placemats, and even the terribly uncomfortable chairs from Ikea. Not even the small cushions from Ikea seem to help the horrible little chairs, but I wouldn't trade them.

I was sitting sometime in the early afternoon with the windows open, Gershwin playing on the stereo, a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese before me and a wonderful book open on the table. I clearly recall saying out loud, “I’m as happy as a clam.” I also remember quite quickly thinking, “What did I just say?” And then, “What does it mean to be as happy as a clam?” So then my perfectly wonderful day took me exploring and here is what I found.

An early version is 'as happy as a clam at high water'. Clams are free from the attentions of predators at high tide, so perhaps that's a reason to consider them happy then. The earliest known citation doesn't mention water though. That's in Harvardiana, 1834:
"That peculiar degree of satisfaction, usually denoted by the phrase 'as happy as a clam'."
John G. Saxe, the American writer best known for his poem The Blind Men and the Elephant, used the phrase in his Sonnet to a Clam, in the late 1840s:

Inglorious friend! most confident I am
Thy life is one of very little ease;
Albeit men mock thee with their similes,
And prate of being "happy as a clam!"
What though thy shell protects thy fragile head
From the sharp bailiffs of the briny sea?
Thy valves are, sure, no safety-valves to thee,
While rakes are free to desecrate thy bed,
And bear thee off, - as foemen take their spoil,
Far from thy friends and family to roam;
Forced, like a Hessian, from thy native home,
To meet destruction in a foreign broil!
Though thou art tender, yet thy humble bard
Declares, O clam! thy case is shocking hard!

The phrase originated in the US and possibly before 1834. In 1848 the Southern Literary Messenger - Richmond, Virginia expressed the opinion that the phrase "is familiar to everyone". Copyright © Gary Martin, 1996 - 2008

Now aided with the rightful origin of the phrase, I felt equipped to reassess the situation. My plate empty of all lunch remnants, I still declared myself to be quite content. I poured a glass of water and then remembered to water my plants. Their deaths would not have made for the most wonderful of days. I took the water and my book out onto the porch. And as I suspected, the sun of Arizona did not disappoint.

A grilled cheese, the book, the uncomfortable chair, and the sun…that’s all it really takes for me. I suppose I’m destined to be a clam then.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Oscar Picks!

I know you've probably been dying to find out, so I won't keep you waiting any longer. Here are my picks for Sunday’s 80th Academy Awards. Keep these predictions close by while you watch, because I’m never wrong!*

Best Picture: This award will almost certainly go to “No Country for Old Men.” If anything else wins, it will surely be considered an upset. If “No Country” doesn’t take home the gold, look for the possibility of “Michael Clayton” surprising everyone. I think there’s a chance that “No Country” and “There Will Be Blood” might alienate some voters with their controversial endings and odd ‘milkshake’ moments. “Clayton” has been quietly building momentum, and if “No Country” and “Blood” split the vote, this might be the movie to beat. On the other hand, “Juno” is a fan favorite and ‘the little movie that could,’ so there is a small chance that it could go the distance. And while “Atonement” was beautiful and stunning, it’s probably going to come up empty handed. To sum up: if it’s not “No Country,” it’ll be “Michael Clayton” or “Juno.”

Best Director: I’m going with Ethan and Joel Coen on this one, who are also pretty much a given. If it’s not them, then maybe Julian Schnabel for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” but I doubt it. I was actually going to list Sean Penn in the runner-up category, but when I checked my score card I remembered that he wasn’t even nominated for “Into the Wild,” so nevermind!

Best Actor: Daniel-Day Lewis. Just give it to him right now.

Best Actress: There’s a bit more wiggle room for guesses here, but I’m going to have to go with Julie Christie. She made viewers of “Away from Her” marvel that a healthy woman could play an Alzheimer’s patient so well, and everyone’s been talking about her amazing portrayal ever since. The only possible upsets I see are in Marion Cotillard and Ellen Page. Laura Linney may be the best actress of her generation, but this isn’t her year, and Cate Blanchett will get more votes in the Supporting Actress category.

Supporting Actor: Chalk another one up for “No Country for Old Men,” this category belongs to Javier Bardem. My dark horse in this category is Hal Holbrook for his heart-breaking performance in “Into the Wild.” He’s an emotional favorite, and the only one I could see upsetting Bardem.

Supporting Actress: This is a much more wide open group, and I don’t feel confident picking a winner at all. Except for Saoirse Ronan, I can easily see any of the other four nominees win the big award on Sunday. (Saoirse is really young, and a common complaint is that she wasn’t even in the second half of “Atonement.”) Amy Ryan was an early favorite for her work in “Gone Baby Gone,” and many agree that she still has a great shot at winning. Ruby Dee has already picked up the SAG Award for “American Gangster,” so she could continue in that momentum and take the big one. Tilda Swinton has been highly acclaimed for her role in “Michael Clayton,” and Cate Blanchett is a big critical favorite for her ‘gender-bending’ turn in “I’m Not There.” If you really forced me to pick one, I guess I’d have to go with...("This is hard!")...Amy Ryan. I'm not sure about this one at all, as I really wouldn't be surprised if any of the four of them win. However, my gut feeling is that it's Ryan.

Animated Feature: While the critics are loving them some “Persepolis,” it’s just gotta be “Ratatouille.”
Art Direction: I’ll just go out on a limb here and say it’s going to either be “There Will Be Blood.” Or “Sweeney Todd.” Or “Atonement.” Man, it really could be any of these three! But “There Will Be Blood” already won the Art Director’s Guild award, so I’ll go with that one.
Cinematography: This award will go to either “No Country for Old Men” for actually making west Texas look good, or to “Atonement” for that amazing 5 minute tracking shot of the soldiers on the beach. In the end, though, I’m going with “Atonement.”
Costume Design: The clothes were absolutely gorgeous in “Atonement,” and the voters will want to honor the movie with something. It’s a tough category, but ultimately it's going to be “Atonement,” if for no other reason than Keira Knightley’s stunning emerald dress.
Editing: Tough category, but I’m actually giving this one to “The Bourne Ultimatum.” An Oscar is the least this editor deserves, for sewing together a multitude of one-second cuts. If “Bourne” doesn’t take it, I’m thinking it could be the elusive Roderick Jaynes for “No Country for Old Men.”
Makeup: First of all, let's please reflect upon the fact that “Norbit” was nominated for an Oscar. Yes, that “Norbit.” Has it sunk in yet? Okay, moving on. Marion Cotillard is a beautiful young woman. In “La Vie En Rose,” she was transformed into a very believable looking old woman. “Rose” will beat out “Pirates” and…“Norbit”…to win.
Original Score: The buzz in this category is all about “Atonement,” and I really did love the way the music and the sound of typewriter keys wove together in the film. If not “Atonement,” then “Ratatouille” is a possibility.
Original Song: It’s too bad “Enchanted” is up for three different songs, because that will probably really hurt them by canceling out their own votes. So despite my beloved Kristin Chenoweth performing an “Enchanted” song, I really thing Falling Slowly from “Once” will be the big winner.
Original Screenplay: “And the Oscar goes to….Diablo Cody for ‘Juno!’” Just getting you used to hearing that. “Juno” is new, it’s fresh-- it’s what Academy voters love. The movie was all about the words. Plus, they’ll feel bad about not giving the statue to “Juno” for Best Picture or Director or Actress (most likely), so the film will get a nod in this slot.
Adapted Screenplay: I hate to say it again, but nothing’s getting past “No Country for Old Men.” It was a big book. Now it’s a big, Oscar nominated movie. The Coens are taking home this award as well. If it’s not them, I’m going to guess “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” It’s not nominated in the foreign language category because the French decided to submit “Persepolis” instead, so Academy voters may honor the movie’s screenplay as an alternative.
Sound Mixing: No, I don’t really know much about this category, other than to say that Hollywood loves a fairy tale. And what could be a better fairy tale than a nominee finally winning after losing 19 times? Such is the case for Kevin O'Connell of “Transformers,” so look for him to take home the gold on his 20th time out. If he continues to be unlucky, the award could go to “The Bourne Ultimatum.”
Sound Editing: Usually the winner for Sound Mixing wins for Sound Editing as well, so I’ll go with “Transformers” here too. (Unless “Bourne” wins for mixing, in which case I’ll pick “Bourne” in this category too!)
Visual Effects: I’m actually going to go with “Transformers” again here. Otherwise it could possibly be “Pirates of the Caribbean,” but Pirates 2 won last year, so ultimately I’ll give it to “Transformers.”
Documentary/Foreign-Language/Short Films: I’ve never heard of most of these movies, so I’m not even going to pretend to know what I’m talking about. Usually when I’m picking for categories like these, I pick the one with the most interesting sounding title. This rarely works for me.

*I wish.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Peeves, not the poltergeist

I’ve begun to realize that adding just one other person to any given situation is often enough kindling to start my blood boiling. I don’t know where I get it from (hah). I found myself screaming, yes screaming, at a car driving past me last week. It was 1:00pm on a Monday afternoon, school was in session. I slowed my car down to 30 miles an hour as soon as the school zone hit. The Cadillac SUV behind me zoomed on by holding her arms out as if to say, “What the heck are you doing?” I of course, respond in the way I should and throw my arms up trying to somehow convey “SCHOOL ZONE LADY.” (I also scream this very loudly in my car.) I’m sure she understood and felt significant remorse.

I received a text today. “25 people going to eat at a restaurant. Your own personal hell.” Mind you, I don’t mind people in general at restaurants, but I cannot stand the mob mentality of a table with more than 6. I believe 6 to be somehow manageable. More than that and the poor waitress has such a time getting anyone to pay attention to her. I find myself becoming the manager of the group. “Guys, what do you want to drink!?!” Or later when she returns with the orders, “WHO ORDERED THE CALZONE?!!” I can’t handle it. Well, I suppose I do handle it, but I just have to lower my expectations ahead of time and prepare myself to be working for the restaurant that night.

Last but not least, self-doubt. I’m not talking about the kind of self-doubt that keeps you from meeting new people or going new places. Mine looks a little something like this: I wake up, make coffee, eat breakfast, get ready, plug in the curling iron, curl hair, unplug the curling iron, pack bag, grab lunch, fill coffee cup, turn off coffee maker, turn off lights, turn air up or down, shut door, lock door, run down the stairs, open car, throw bags into the back, sit in driver seat, pull out, drive 3 minutes down the road and then doubt that I have either A) Turned the air up or down, B) Unplugged the curling iron, or C) Turned off the coffee pot. Invariably, even as much as 60% of the time – if I am within 10 minutes from home…I will turn back around, pull into my apartment complex, park the car, and run upstairs just to check. 98% of the time (no clue on the actual statistics) I’ve doubted myself for no good reason and find everything just as it should be. You can be sure I will not be the source of an apartment fire - although I might personally explode from frustration one of these times...but I doubt it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Work It Out

I work out at a place that's only about 7 minutes from my apartment. It's across the street from a cemetary. I think maybe that's so we see what could happen if we don't stay healthy? Maybe? Anyway. Here are a few other thoughts on working out.
I don't understand the jazzed up versions of already bad songs. Didn't think Shakira could get any worse? Think again. Actually, it's more of a travesty to see great songs from the Beach Boys given the 80's treatment- sped up and given a heavy beat. Not okay. This is why I now work out with my iPod-- volume always turned up to hide the strains of songs like the ridiculously overplayed "Unwritten."
There are several paintings of oddly distorted anorexic-looking women in bathing suits on the walls. Is this supposed to be encouraging? I do not want to look like that, thanks.
It's awkward when there's only one other person working out, and they are directly across the room for me. I usually acknowledge them with one of those "Oh-here-we-are-again-working-out-don't-you-hate-it" smiles and then look away. But then as time progresses, I have a hard time diverting my eyes so we're not just staring at each other. So then I'm trying to look like I'm very casually reading that poster over there about healthy eating habits because it's so interesting. I just need to read it again. I had forgotten that part....about the fruits....
The employee who's usually there when I'm there is very perky. It must be hard to stay perky there, with all the sweaty people and the exercise and everything. But she's always perky!
I just love it when there are dozens of open machines, but for unknown reasons someone has decided to get on the machine RIGHT NEXT TO ME. Why is that? I know it's not the witty conversation-- I have my earbuds in. I CAN'T HEAR YOU.
I also don't love the super-bouncy overachievers who, let's face it, only want to make everyone else look bad. Just sit down.
There are several little 'encouraging' signs posted everywhere. "You can do it!" "Doin' Good!" "Don't give up!" These seem to have an opposite effect on me. I don't feel encouraged, I want to tell the signs to shut up, and then maybe rip them off the wall on my way out.
Is there a more freeing moment than the one that finds you leaving the gym, having finished your exercise regimine? Bliss.
Oh, and a special note to the squat machine: I hate you.

Friday, February 15, 2008


There’s a ridiculous rumor still rolling around surrounding the benefits of moving to the desert for your health. Since arriving in Arizona I have had just as much trouble with bouts of colds and respiratory problems as existed in the middle of the East Texas woods. I’m currently laid out once again by a vicious run in with allergies. What started as a head ache Wednesday night has now developed into the full cloudy head and sneeze fest. I just made another cup of tea and thanked the Lord that I am off for the day. I just visited my doctor a week ago and have finished my antibiotic round for bronchitis. I asked her about the supposed excellent health I'm supposed to be having in Phoenix. She was quick to say that there were health benefits to be found here up until the early 70’s when everyone started moving here bringing with them their pets, plants, and pollution. (The alliteration wasn’t even planned.) So, I stopped in to get Zyrtec over the counter yesterday. It’s about $50 cheaper now that I don’t need a prescription, and I’m hoping it will do the trick.

In the meantime, I suppose I will just have to push through the allergies and exhaustion I’m currently feeling. I figured the tea and a good book should do the trick, as long as I have a box of Kleenex nearby. Now, speaking of the good book, I’ve just picked up a book that I’ve never heard of and the author’s name doesn’t ring any bells for me, but the cover was highly intriguing. (I thoroughly judge a book by a decent cover.)

My library keeps clear plastic shelves at the end of all the book rows. Like Starbucks and Barnes and Noble, these areas are reserved for the employee’s favorites. Each of the librarians has their name listed: Evelyn recommends – and then you can find roughly 5-10 books in the case recommended by Evenlyn. The books change every few weeks and I often select from them, though not always from Evelyn. I don’t remember the name that adorned the case I selected the new book from. I opened up to read the jacket description and spied a purple post-it placed on the title page. It read “This is a great book!” in plain black script. That sealed the deal for me. It was as if it was calling out to be read. Not even 5 pages in and I spied the following paragraphs:

Before she became ill, David’s mother would often tell him that stories were alive. They weren’t alive in the way that people were alive, or even dogs or cats. People were alive whether you chose to notice them or not, while dogs tended to make you notice them if they decided that you weren’t paying them enough attention. Cats, meanwhile, were very good at pretending people didn’t exist at all when it suited them, but that was another matter entirely.

Stories were different, though: they came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath a blanket, they had no real existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. They lay dormant, hoping for the chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination, and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read, David’s mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.

So you see, I really had no choice but to pick up “The Book of Lost Things” by John Connolly. I’m hoping that by reheating my tea and opening back up to page 28 that I will be able to forget about the allergies threatening to take away a perfectly useful day. Stupid pollution. Or as my mother would say, "POLLUTION!"

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Few Of My Favorite Things

Favorite movies are very important to me. Just ask.... well, anyone who knows me. Or even anyone I've ever met. Because chances are, soon after asking "What's your name" and "Where are you from," I will ask you "So what are some of your favorite movies?" Some people are taken aback, and have to think about it for a few minutes, and that's something I don't understand. How do you not know what your favorite movies are??

Deciding the order of films in my top ten is an ongoing process, and one which I re-do every several months. Recently I listed out all the movies that I love enough that could possibly be considered a 'favorite,' and I came up with around 40 to 50 movie titles. I slowly whittled the list down to a top 25, and from there spent days agonizing over the particular order of the movies.
One night I was talking through the process aloud to my brother, fretting over such decisions as which to put in slot #3, "That Thing You Do" or "Newsies." Frustrated over my endless chattering, he finally shouted "Why does it even matter?" My bewildered answer?
"How does it not?"
Movies in general are fascinating to me, and I am a big list-maker, so naturally I would be interested in making lists about my own favorite movies. It can be a big deal to me to, say, move "A League of Their Own" all the way up to the #2 slot, meaning I love only "The Lord of the Rings" more. And the fact that I have a solid top 25 favorite movies seems only natural to me.*
So imagine my delight upon discovering that a book entirely devoted to the concept of having a top ten favorite movie list exists. Cinescopes is a very good book that, based on your ten favorite movies, can tell what kind of person you are. I, for instance, am a split personality, divided between Charismatic Performer and Vivacious Romantic, due to my love of movies like "Singin' in the Rain" and "Sense and Sensibility."
The book is based on the concept that "You are what you watch," and it's interesting to see people analyzed so accurately. I encourage you to visit the Cinescopes web site and watch the video where the authors of the book analyze the CBS Early Show anchors. It's quite interesting to see the analysis in action. There's also a page where you can submit your top ten list and learn whether you're a Determined Survivor, an Enlightened Healer, or an Invincible Optimist!
Even without the book in front of me, I love hearing people's movies. And not just to decipher the type of person they are, either. I simply enjoy discussing movies of all types (save move Adam Sandler "comedies"). It just comes with the territory of being a cinephile, I guess!
So... what are your favorite movies?
*See the comments section for mine and Ginger's own top 10 lists!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

And if you ask me why, I'll say...

I grew up eating only bologna sandwiches for lunch. Lest you think my parents unusually cruel, I will let you know that my father did just about anything to broaden my horizons. My sandwich of choice was just the meat and the bread. It doesn’t get much easier than that (except my brother’s brief stint with ketchup bread, which is disgusting as it sounds.) My dad most often made my sandwich each school night and could be heard frequently asking me, “Are you sure you don’t want cheese this time, or mustard?” Why would he want to complicate a good thing? Although I have broadened my horizons and now enjoy turkey sandwiches with all the fixings (just never mayo), I will only eat a bologna sandwich plain…and sometimes smashed for good measure.
When I was home for Christmas, my parents and I went to a restaurant known for great hamburgers. I ordered mine medium with just cheese and ketchup. “You still do that? You are wasting that hamburger with cheese and ketchup?!” – Yep. Dad again. I’m really ok with my meager selections.

I’m not certain what this says about me, except that my palate must be in want of some new fare. I had carrots, tomatoes, and cinnamon toast for dinner last night (not at the same time). Isn’t that what growing up is all about? Making your own choices because you are in fact, the boss? I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of living on my own. I’m certainly thankful I don’t have to feed anyone else, because I don’t know many others who would have eaten grilled cheese and tomato soup 5 dinners in a row. It was one of those large containers of soup, and I didn’t want it to go bad…so I ate it until it was all gone.

When my friends and I went to Destin, Florida a couple of years ago, we made a rule that every night someone had to ask the group two questions. One was to be serious and the other could be random or funny. So if it was my turn I might ask everyone about the craziest thing they’ve ever done and then who inspires them most. Someone asked the question, “What would you eat at your last meal?” People compiled lavish menus complete with appetizers and Sweet Tea from McAllister’s to lavish deserts from the Cheese Cake Factory.

What if I told you the bologna sandwich made my list? Wait, scratch that. A bologna sandwich with wheat bread and a post it note…inside the sandwich.

I suppose Dad really thought my sandwich needed something. I can’t tell you how many times he would slide a note just above the “meat” stating – Enjoy your lunch, or love you, or something to the effect of “this sandwich is full of bologna, love dad.” I can’t tell you how many times this actually occurred because I would often sit down to dinner and have Dad turn to me and say with a smile, “How was your lunch today?” I wonder how many post-its I’ve eaten in my lifetime. Don’t worry. I got him back a few times. I bet the mayo and mustard did a number on the paper.

The bologna sandwich did not make my last meal list, but it should…if nothing else then to get a note to remind me of who I am and where I come from.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

'Christmas is canceled.' -Michael Scott

If the Academy Awards are canceled this year, or if the ceremony is not aired on television, it is very likely that I will cry. I look forward to the Oscars the same way some people anticipate the Super Bowl. I know I'm not alone in this, but I also don't know many people who talk about, read about, make predictions about, and think about the Academy Awards for the entire month leading up to the broadcast. It's like....a holiday! You just can't cancel the Oscars! That would be like canceling Christmas!

And what is the reason the aforementioned tragedy might occur? Why that would be this lovely writer's strike we now find ourselves in the midst of. A writer's strike that has taken away all the fun out of television and replaced it with 'American Gladiators' and Tom Cruise movies.

Now, don't get me wrong. I totally understand the "new media" debate and agree that the writer's are in the right (write?) on this one. And I feel for all the worker's on the low end of the Hollywood totem pole- the hairdressers, costumers, lighting guys- that are currently without pay. So I'm not faulting the writers here. AMPTP needs to just get down off their high Hollywood thrones and throw those writers a bone-- or, in this case, their eight cents!*

Even if the best case scenario were to happen and the strike were to end tomorrow, the tv schedule would take a while to repair. Some of my favorite shows, such as 'The Office,' have already aired all the episodes they had on tap. But half hour shows are easier to produce, and 'The Office' might possibly return to the air in a month. For hour long shows like 'Heroes,' it could be closer to a month and a half before we got a new episode.

Worst case scenario: If the strike was resolved much later than mid-March, we can likely kiss the rest of the '07-'08 season good-bye. Meaning no more 'Grey's Anatomy' or 'CSI' until September. Yeah.

Needless to say, I think we're all hoping for an end to the strike soon, however that end might come about. We need late night shows to return to normal, we need SNL to hurry up and come back, we need Michael Scott to return, and most imporantly, we need our Oscars!

*Currently writers get 4 cents for every dvd sold. They are now asking for that number to go to 8 cents.