Monday, November 26, 2012

The Doldrums...

"It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time," Milo laments. "[T]here's nothing for me to do, nowhere I'd care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing."

Today, I don't feel like doing anything at all. Like Milo in his toy car, I am stuck in the Doldrums, the place where all motion stops, all energy fizzles, all thinking sleeps. Oh, I have a lot of things I should be doing - grading the stack of papers next to me on the dining-room table (the desk I should have put in my office a few months ago is still on the porch), prepping lessons for tomorrow, getting a shower. Instead, I find myself twiddling my thumbs and thinking about Milo.

Milo is the 10-year-old protagonist of Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, a boy so bored with life that he finds nothing appealing. And hence, he does nothing (which perhaps is part of my problem today - I find no task appealing, therefore I don't tackle any of them). Until, that is, a random tollbooth suddenly appears in his bedroom with a map to the Lands Beyond. Breaking the spell of his boredom, the tollbooth transports him to a land of wonder and mystery, where words are spun into magic. Milo's companion throughout much of the adventure, for example, is "Tock," a "watchdog," part clock, part man's best friend, who helps Milo out of sticky situations. Digitopolis (the town where words are sold in the marketplace), the Humbug, the Princesses Rhyme and Reason, King Aziz the Unabridged, the Sea of Knowledge, the Castle in the Air. The book is chock-full of plays on words that delight adults as much as they do children.

I suppose what I learned from this book oh so many years ago is that you only get somewhere by moving. By getting up off your tush and making your limbs move in some direction, it doesn't really matter what direction that is. Boredom is funny that way. Being bored breeds getting bored-er.

So ... off into the world I go. For my readers, who know the way. ~Alice

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Nightmare before Christmas....

The tree is up in Wonderland.

I believe, firmly, that one's tree should tell a personal narrative. I hate those trees that are perfect, the ones that look like they popped magically out of Martha Stewart Living. When everything matches, you can bet that there is not one meaningful ornament to be found.

Our trees are famous among our friends for being wonky. Usually, they are completely crooked, with limbs shooting off in various directions like firecrackers. This year's tree is rather subdued, since we bought it; usually, my step-father cuts the top off of a tree in New York and brings it back to PA for us to squeeze into our living room (which in the past was tiny - think Clark Griswold trying to fit his dream tree into his suburban living room). But our trees have personality. Every ornament belongs. Even the one I made in first grade that looks like a really creepy clown (and I hate clowns, ever since I made the mistake of watching It in seventh grade).

A few of my favorites.

The spider I bought on clearance last year at Anthropologie.
Who doesn't love a spider ornament?

The Cheshire Cat.

One of many doll ornaments my mother made out of clothespins when she was a little girl.

My handsome father.

The latest addition to our tree. Snagged him up today for $2 at Target.

You know I have to have a Nightmare before Christmas ornament set.
What kind of creepo would I be without it?

The "m" I bought on sale last night at Anthropologie to top our tree this year.
Every ornament tells a story, don't it? ~Alice

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The most curious tea party...

Since I have been sitting here staring at my coffee cup thinking about what to write (this has never before happened to a writer, yes?), I figured I would just break down and write about my cup.

This cup is only one of a collection of many from the Alice in Wonderland's Cafe collection by Paul Cardew that I started piecing together a few years back.

A few of my favorites.

Cheshire Cat as cheeky playboy. My favorite piece of them all. It seems rather appropriate that
the cat would be pictured on the creamer.

The rabbit in the cup, not the dormouse.

Teapot and cup in one.

Sugar bowl, topped by a clock.
The tiniest of tea cups.
As Robert Brault once wrote, "Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things." Cheers to the little things that make you happy as well. ~Alice

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Much Madness is divinest Sense [AHS Review] ...

Today's post must be a swift one. I found last night's episode of American Horror absolutely riveting. And I kept thinking of the following poem by Emily Dickinson:
Much Madness is divinest Sense -
To a discerning Eye -
Much Sense - the starkest Madness -
’Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail -
Assent - and you are sane -
Demur - you’re straightway dangerous -
And handled with a Chain -
We found out who is behind the Bloody Face. The sanest seeming character proves one of the most insane (I can't say I didn't see that coming). Anne Frank isn't Anne after all (she's a woman off her rocker), but she is dead on about Dr. Arden's background (as we discover in a pan of the camera reminiscent of the closing scene of Kubrick's The Shining).

At a conference a few weeks ago, casual conversation over dinner (and a little wine) turned to the nature of AHS and its overarching messages. One person noted that she found the last season of AHS rather conservative in the end, for as controversial as it was, the four-person family is reinstated at the end, under the Christmas tree, surrounded by an aura of warmth and love, suggesting that a little murder and mayhem was all that was needed in order to bring this family, which was in dire straits when it moved into the Murder House, back together again. I am bothered by the fact that women are constantly under assault in this latest installment of AHS, even if they are under assault in order to show that all the 1960s MadMen want is a little Stepford Wife who will fix them martinis and cook them a pot roast with potatoes and carrots and onions.

I hope the women aren't shrinking violets, fading into the yellow wallpaper. I hope Dr. Arden and Dr. Thredson get what's coming to them.

Finally, on a completely different note, I am really enjoying the intertextuality of this season's episodes. What riffs on classic horror films, novels, and stories have you picked up on this season? ~Alice

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We are the dead ...

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.       
This week, I am teaching a book in my Honors English class titled Under the Bridge.

The book's cover suggests what darkness lurks within: "In 1997, a fourteen-year-old girl was discovered floating in the waters bordering an idyllic suburb on the West Coast. Her death was no accident. Her killer was no stranger." In Under the Bridge, Rebecca Godfrey traces the circumstances surrounding the murder of a young girl named Reena Virk, an East Indian teen from Vancouver, British Columbia who idolized the wrong people and wound up dead as a result. The waters Godfrey enters are filled with the relics of a Gen-X adolescence: Polo Sport, Calvin Klein jean jackets, Snoop Dogg and Warren G CDs, black platform sandals, and Tommy Hilfiger jeans. If you came of age in the mid- to late-90s, especially in a lower- to middle-class town where your social status depended on owning at least one of the above, the perimeter of Reena's world can become a little claustrophobic - and all the more haunting.

Reena's face has been hovering at the borders of my consciousness all day. Her story is one of terrible, almost unfathomable, cruelty. Godfrey, in my opinion, doesn't have to do much work to make the book affecting. Who hasn't, in middle school, been so desperate to be liked that we were willing to sacrifice our own integrity, our self-respect?  Who didn't, at some point, want to be like the "cool" kids who ruled the school, even though their morals and their goals were highly suspect? For most of us, these childish mistakes didn't result in much more than a queasy feeling in our stomachs, some soul-searching, and a few years of wandering in a social abyss, Leviathans in pursuit. For Reena, the consequences were much, much worse.

What is so shocking about this book, this event, is that not one kid .... not ONE ... saw fit to call an authority, 911, a parent, even though they had all seen a swarm of other girls and one boy viciously beat another girl to the brink of death. The majority of these kids backed off. Two didn't. Three people went over the bridge; two came back.

Reena's story, as awful as it is, should be required reading for anyone around the age she was when she died. The book shows that the border between bullying and murder can be easily crossed, especially when a mob mentality holds sway over a group of kids who care a great deal about what their friends think.

I keep coming back to that one simple "what if." If one kid had stepped up, said no, called off the dogs - just one, Reena might still be alive. Who knows if there isn't another Reena out there who could be saved by some kid who had to read Under the Bridge in his or her English Class? I bet there is. ~Alice    

Friday, November 9, 2012

R is Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet

Last week, my daughter's school brought in the children's book author, Judy Young, for a Meet the Author event. I had not heard about Young's books before that evening, but I was taken, as she talked about her books, their illustrations, and the process of becoming an author, by her work. Young's books are inviting, beautifully illustrated, and intelligent. They are not of the See Spot Run variety, which I think pretty much every kid finds snooze-inducing. They are intricate, finely wrought, detailed ... and they ask a lot from the reader (which I like).

As one of the prize-winning poets in her grade, my daughter got to bring home R is for Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet. As the title suggests, the book is structured by the letters of the alphabet, each of which stand for something related to the world of poetry (A is for acrostic, B is for ballad, you get the idea). As the pages open to each new word, Young explains the concept, device, etc. up for consideration and includes a poem and an illustration to bring that thing to life. Here's "A," for example.

The rest of the book is filled with beautifully drawn caricatures of other famous authors and poets, enlivening a literary canon that, for children, often can seem aloof and unintelligible, reminding us that poetry was often viewed as one of education's most civilizing and educative tools (See Walter de la Mare's Poems for Children).

My favorite lines in this book are from "The Ballad of the Butterfly and Rose":

Soon summer passed and came the time
When roses start to fade
And butterflies leave for the south,
Yet knowing that, he stayed.

The butterfly felt freezing winds
But would not leave his bride
And with his wings wrapped round his rose,
Together they both died.

Morbid, but lovely. The kind of thing I usually like;). Enjoy! ~Alice

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Signs of the Cross [American Horror Review]

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Trespassing. Temptation. Evil. Sin. Last night's American Horror Story made me feel like I was a fly on the wall in a confessional, a space that always intrigued me as a little Catholic schoolgirl (who/what was on the other side of that dark metal grate? What would happen if I lied about cursing or forgot how to say my Hail Mary? ... Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus...).  Last night, my worst fears were born into reality, as the creators of AHS fully uncloaked several of its villains from their goodly guises. The night was all about revealing secrets - secret sins, secret pasts, secret desires.

Dr. Harden's Nazi war crimes, rather obvious from the start. The psychologist's latent homosexuality. The possibility that Kit really is a killer in the dark recesses of his mind. Shelly's slaughter of her family. AHS last night concentrated on blurring the lines between secret realities and public fantasies, publicized secrets and intimate fantasies. Not to mention the invasion of people's private lives by public fantasies of what is right and what is wrong (how disturbing and utterly depressing was that whole aversion/conversion therapy scene?). As for the inclusion of Anne Frank in this episode, I'm not sure how I feel about it. I find exploiting her personhood, especially if it involves doing violence to this character in the next episode, ethically and morally problematic (your thoughts?).

What AHS pointed out so poignantly last night is that "sinners" who ask for forgiveness are often not forgiven. They are destroyed. Violently. And, even worse, sinners in positions of power are often given free rein to sin (Who is that Father cat, anyway? He sure doesn't smoke like a priest.).

And with that, AHS sucked me right back in. Oh, one more thing, haven't people learned yet they don't really want to know what's behind locked doors? Bluebeard, anyone? Yikes.

More next week. ~Alice

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet...

We had one heck of a Halloween party last night. Some of my favorite pictures.

We travel in packs.
Dinner anyone??

A winning pair...

Talking politics...

My breakfast... at 12:30 PM ... post turning the clocks back;).

Can't wait until next year. ~Alice

Thursday, November 1, 2012

One helluva "Nor-easter" (and I don't mean Sandy)... {AHS Review}

This week's installment of American Horror has left me feeling a little, well, icky (perhaps because I also watched the show Oddities just afterword). I know what I am going to talk about here has been debated by others many times before, but last night's episode was a perfect example of my own personal battle with the "gross-out" factor in the horror genre. See, I like my horror a little chaste, like Sister Mary Eunice before she became the devil incarnate. Or Sister Mary Eunice as the devil incarnate? Hmmm.... Yes. Minus the scissors.

Which brings me back to my point (hehehe). Think back to Psycho. Hitchcock manages to portray the greusomeness of the now infamous murder in the shower without pulling out all the stops. He suggests the terribleness of the crime, the vulnerability of the woman. He doesn't show us, in all its gory detail, the knife entering the neck, the full arc of the blood jet.

I wouldn't ever shower again either.
(The Classic Corner: Psycho (1960) — ANOMALOUS MATERIAL)
Last night, AHS put me on sensory overload, gory details galore. Flesh-eating zombies. Amputated legs. Three, count 'em, three Bloody Faces. Aliens slithering around in the background as in Signs. A possible Nazi doctor on the run. Rape. Pillaging. You get the idea. How much can one one-hour episode hold before it explodes into a parody of itself? How many different kinds of monsters (both human and supernatural) can you pack in before things start to get ridiculous?

"Horror Movie Killers" by JacksonBegelhole for ordering info.
For me, AHS this season is trending too far into Saw territory, bedding down with Dr. Harden's pet backyard zombies; not exactly my cup of tea. In my eyes, when you objectify the body and someone's suffering so much that I, as the viewer, start losing touch with the victimized person's humanity, I am at moral risk as your viewer - and I'm not really scared anymore. As my mom always would tell me when I was getting ready to walk out the door during the late '80s, "Honey, sometimes less is more." I like innuendo. Suggestion. Things that go bump in the night as opposed to bloody things with chainsaws, sores, and blood shooting everywhere.

Call me old-fashioned. I don't really care. I'm more of a martini girl than a kamikaze one. You can have your horror straight-up with no chaser. I'd rather have a nice dinner and some chianti with mine;).

That's my two cents. Take them or leave them. ~Alice