Monday, December 29, 2008

Documentary Roundup

My BFF was in town last week and is currently infected with a fetus growing in her womb.  It's her first.  Because she and the Mr. have very demanding jobs, childcare is an issue and she'd optimally like to get a nanny.  Of course, as it would any new parent in her situation that wishes there were more hours in the day, this makes her feel guilty and she blindsided me.

"Don't you find that the time you have away from the kids when they're with their dad is good for your mental health?"

Had I known what she was really asking (Should I feel badly about bringing my first child into a world where I already have so little time?), I wouldn't have said, "NO!  I hate it when they're not home!"

That said,

I've turned to Netflix in my time of need.  Not only do I almost always have two DVDs at home (usually the kids pick those), but I can use the "Watch Instantly" feature whenever I'm too bummed to get out of bed.  This has led to an addiction to the documentary.  I've watched about six in the last two months and have decided to start reporting on them.

King Corn
Filmmakers Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis head to Iowa to grow an acre of corn from genetically modified seeds and follow it all the way into the food chain to show us that corn is literally in almost everything we eat.  It was actually quite fun to watch.  I especially liked the part where they begin to harvest their corn and each take a big bite, spitting it out all over the place when they are reminded, through it's non-traditional taste, that the corn they've grown is not to be eaten, but used as an ingredient or to feed cattle.  Which leads to the part where they're shown that the cattle can't digest the corn and, if they weren't going to be slaughtered anyway, the cattle would die painful deaths.  Basically, even when we eat beef, we eat corn.  I know, I know.  It's only corn.

Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride
In this documentary on Hunter S. Thompson, I took away less about his life and work and more about the reaction he elicited from the many A-list actors who worshipped him.  It focused more on his celebrity life and the movies made about him than his journalism.  As a gal who knew relatively little about Hunter S. Thompson going in, I'm left wondering why he was so important when this movie dwelled so much upon his life of hedonism.  That's all well and good, but where was the fiercely intelligent and political man who put some rather genius words together?  I suppose it's meant to be enough for me to know that celebrities worshipped him, partied with him constantly until they were all comatose, and that, even though he never allowed himself to be alone, he was lonely enough to kill himself.

Okay, that's enough for now.  I was going to include one about Darfur, but I don't want your eyes to glaze over anymore than they already have.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Filling the Silo, Part Three

Part Two
Part One

The first week of working with an oddity I could not understand came and went.  Each day, I became more perplexed by the existence of a creature who had no will.

To breathe.
To leave.
To see.

Each day of the week had gone exactly like the first.  My motions unchanged, the conviction and authenticity behind them unwavering.  I'd never felt so defeated leaving work, so scared to face the funnel in the morning. 

I found myself staring down the barrel of the weekend knowing I had to come up with something phenomenal for the next week. 

Routine ruled my weekends too and, while there wasn't anything to speak of, I was fretting over how damaging a disruption in my routine would be if I didn't solve my little problem.  It was, then, supremely satisfying to be me when I popped out of bed with a solution, brilliant as the sunshine, behind my eyes. 

An inspired vision.

I could hardly sleep that Sunday night and morning couldn't come soon enough.

When I got to work, I was first into the room and, instead of walking around the funnel to my side, I stopped on his side, closest to the door and directly beside the dull but magnificent mountain of rocks. 

My inspired vision played out perfectly:
He arrived on cue.
Not the least bit unsure of why I might be standing on his mark, he began to stroll around the funnel to my side.
I intervened by loudly and intentionally clearing my throat.
He stopped and looked at me and, unfazed by the eyes that didn't see me, I broke into a big, toothy grin and picked up a rock.
Instead of aiming for the hole in the floor, I tossed the rock, underhand, over to my coworker.
He caught it and I motioned with my head, indicating that he should throw it into the funnel.
He did.

We repeated this process, the interval of time between rocks leaving my fingertips to close the short distance between us lessened and my smiles grew wider.  We were dancing, even if his face didn't acknowledge it.

Everything went according to plan until, in spite of myself, I became aware of how quickly our waltz was turning the mountain into a hill.  I had unconsciously moved from goal two, stretching my band of determination, to goal one, filling the silo.

I was frenzied.  Things were changing, I knew it. 

Turns out, this time I was right.

End inspired vision.

In one movement, his hand, previously catching the rocks I threw, dropped and the rock hit his upper thigh, another on its way before I realized what was happening.  I looked up at his face and it had changed color.  It was red and, for the first time, his eyes were full of emotion and they were angry at me.  I tried to recover by smiling wider, if it was possible, and locking my knees and elbows in contrived cuteness. 

That was the wrong thing because he swiftly spun around, his hands flying up into the air as though he were surrendering and his body moved seamlessly toward the brick wall behind him.  I was sure he was going to use his palms as a weapon to explode through the wall but he stopped abruptly just before they hit.  He jerked his hands down to his sides and slowly turned back toward me, face expressionless once again.

In an unprecedented moment of exasperation, I flung the rock I had in my hand at him as hard as I could, overhand, and watched as he didn't notice it hitting his chest.

The next morning, I woke up late.

Things had changed.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Book Review: Seventh Son

In Seventh Son Orson Scott Card attempts to create a vision of an early America plagued by an extreme ethnocentricity that fueled a hatred toward those who owned the land before us while simultaneously caught up in the inner strife Americans fought with one another in trying to determine which recipe of religion and folklore would define them.

Alvin Miller, Jr. is born the seventh son of a seventh son, destined for power if you were a follower of folklore and tentative fear if you followed gospel. In Seventh Son, Card introduces his audience to what will ultimately become a series chronicling Al Jr.'s extraordinary life. In doing so, allusions to religion, founding fathers, and the social environment of frontier America are woven into the story as a vehicle to further emphasize the struggle Al will face in making his decisions in his fight against "The Unmaker." It's your classic good vs. evil (which I don't mention to defeat such a purpose as G v. E is likely my favorite theme in literature).

While all of that was very fascinating and made me feel sufficiently idiotic for not knowing my early U.S. history as well as that test I passed to prove I was smart enough to teach it seems to think I do, I would never have guessed that this book was written by the same author as Ender's Game. It just didn't have the same writing style and there wasn't a single chapter in the first two-thirds of the book that I was able to read without putting it down (oftentimes for days). While my attention span increasingly wanes as I age, I can still pick up Ender and have it finished in a day. In short, I was sufficiently taken aback that, aside from common thematic elements between Ender's Game and Seventh Son, the latter quite well could have been written by someone with infinitely more tiresome diction than Orson Scott Card.

Ultimately, there were several elements that I found intriguing:
*The attitude of Americans that the "Reds" were vicious and would kill a white-skinned person, man, woman, or child, in a heartbeat if ever a one-on-one situation were to occur. Still, the "Reds" were seen to have healing powers which furthered the telling of folklore and threatened religion.
*The place of superstition in a community and how it bound some together and kept others out was fascinating.
*The geography of early America was explored and assisted in providing an image of where America was going as it expanded.

The problem is, these intriguing elements were introduced but not developed in a way that I found meaningful to Al's life or his power. Perhaps it was intended as a foundation for the rest of the series but it felt so clumsy in this book that I have no need to read anymore of the series. Also, I wasn't sure until the last third of the book if Al was good or evil, I didn't care if he lived or died: the characterization was atrocious- not just of Al but of all of the characters excepting the Reverend which I suppose could show this book as less of a portrayal of how the soul perceives good and evil and more of a religious commentary.

Anyhow, to be clear, I wish I hadn't spent so much time getting through this book and had followed my two chapter rule.

My favorite sentence:

The truth when we see it is ridiculous, and if we wish to worship it, we must never allow ourselves to see it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Best Date I've had in a Long Time. And There was Cuddling.

I surprised my ten-year-old with a trip to Rochester Hills last night. We were supposed to stay in town for mommy-daughter night and watch the local production of The Nutcracker, but I needed to do better than that with the week I've had, so I took her to Meadow Brook Theatre's annual production of A Christmas Carol.

On the car ride there, the first thing she asked is if I had received any more bad news. I laughed and responded in the negative. She seemed fully aware that silence would be deadly and carried the conversation for the entire drive.

The play was magnificent, we were both pleasantly surprised. During the intermission, I talked to her about how important and enduring this piece of literature is. She saw evidence in this in her grandma's Tazmanian Devil holiday doormat that reads, "Bah Humbug!" I couldn't say it any better than the director of the play, Terry W. Carpenter, so I won't try:

"The aromas, songs, flavors and colors of the holidays along with the added excitement of family and friends cement those memories more firmly in the foundation of our subconscious. Unfortunately for all too many of us, our memories bring back feelings of regret or remind us of an unpleasantness. Then, like Scrooge, we try to hide that memory further back, cover it with something else or direct our passion elsewhere. May we all remember, if only one of the lessons Scrooge is taught by his ghostly visitors, that we are able to look back at all our past choices to decide which of them to repeat today and bring into our future. A happy New Year to all!"

That said, I'm going to try to consciously halt the voice that keeps reminding me that, last Christmas, I should have been driving away for good and then, maybe, this Christmas, I would already be repaired. However, I'm not and that's okay. I still have many years of good memories and what I choose to do with the good or bad right now will determine how I remember this year.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if what I envisioned for my future is not to be, it doesn't matter that I'm losing my job. What matters is a glimpse I had of my beautiful daughter in the car on the way home, contentment defining the corners of her lips.

Monday, December 1, 2008

World AIDS Day

Last Wednesday, I read the findings of a recent Harvard study in which it was concluded that, if not for the policies of South Africa's most recent president (who lost his position in Septemeber), 330,000 lives could have been saved between 2001 and 2005.  Instead of being provided with anti-retrovirals that have been proven effective in saving the lives of those affected with HIV, South Africans were encouraged to consume natural remedies, like garlic, to fight the disease that would kill them because their president and his government denied scientific evidence that HIV leads to AIDS and refused money from the Global Fund that would provide medication. 

In spite of our country's current economic woes, we continue to be a nation with wealth that gives us the luxury to forget that the fight against AIDS wages on.

Some statistics from 2007 (
*33 million people are living with HIV.
*370,000 children under 15 became infected with HIV and about 260,000 died AIDS related deaths.
*Globally, of young people (age 15-24), only 40% of males and 38% of females possess accurate knowledge of how to avoid transmission of the disease.
*In India, a poor family affected by HIV can expect 82% of their annual income to disappear if they are to pay for treatment.
*In Sub-Saharan Africa, 12 million children have lost at least one parent to AIDS and this number continues to rise.

*Funding in low and middle income countries has increased sixfold since 2001
*While the rate of new infections is increasing in some parts of the world, globally the percentage of people with the virus has stabilized since 2000.
*There has been a decline in the percentage of pregnant young women with HIV in 82% of African countries.

*Because of uneven funding and in spite of great progress over the past several years, what the future brings for the AIDS epidemic can't be predicted and without greater decreases than we've seen thus far in new infections, current progress can't be sustained.


Other blogs:

What World AIDS Day Means to Me
World AIDS Day