Saturday, March 31, 2007

Lights, action, Bollywood!

Enrico and I joined Netflix a few months back, and one of the results is that we've developed a taste for Bollywood movies. They are just fabulous. The colors! The dancing! The rhythmic yet haunting music! The tragic misunderstandings!

On one level, the plots are as formulaic as you get, generally a boy-meets-girl with at least one party hampered by pride or prickliness, or class differences, or previous engagement to the wrong person. But a story that in Hollywood might merit a breezy chick flick of under two hours, in Bollywood is three to four hours long. Some of the added length comes from the fabulous musical numbers, of course, but these movies also dig into the complex family obligations, the personal struggles, the social expectations. A US movie would be satisfied with one token piece of dialogue to telegraph to the audience: Daddy Issue here! or Class Issue! or whatever, But there is no shorthand in Bollywood. You get long dialogue AND a musical number, in case the point wasn't clear without song and dance.

We recently got a BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice, and also the Indian adaptation Bride and Prejudice; Jane Austen is perfect material for an Indian setting. The long demure walks, the eloquent dialogue layered with subtext, the stiffling societal expectations, and the lively, intelligent characters who bristle against them. Just as a decent adaptation of Pride and Prejudice required a six-hour mini-series, so a Bollywood movie must be at least 3 hours long.

I am also incredibly impressed with the actors. My sense is that a working actor cranks out a huge number of movies each year - all of them 3 to 4 hours long, with songs to memorize and complex dance numbers to master. Most of the acting is far from Oscar-worthy, to be sure, but I've got to believe that India has the hardest-working, most multi-talented actors on the planet.

Of course, we know nothing about Bollywood, so we're picking movies somewhat at random out of the Netflix collection. So if there are any afficionados out there of Indian movies, feel free to drop a few suggestions. And it's also making me wish I knew more about Indian culture and history, something I've been reading about a bit in preparation for writing the Rutabega Family Saga, but my knowledge is really woefully limited. And because I don't have enough to do in my life, I'm thinking of learning Hindi.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Birthday wishes, and a story

Happy Birthday, MoxieVanilla!

My sister reports that all she wants for her birthday is a new pet fish, and tells of the enticingly aquarium-shaped present that has appeared from her husband. This reminded me of a story from our childhood, and what better gift could I give my sister than a slightly eccentric childhood story, published on the Internet?

There were no furry pets in our household growing up because of allergies. Abundant allergies to fuzzy creatures. Instead, my sister at a very young age became something of a connoisseur of furless pets: fish, newts, axelotles, frogs, toads, iguanas, you name it.

I believe her first foray beyond the basic fish tank was the frogs. My mother informed me that she would be getting my sister some frogs for her birthday, but she needed to hide them for a week or so, and could she please hide them in my closet? Knowing, of course, that in my 13-year-old's obsessive need to keep my kid sister from TOUCHING MY STUFF, hiding the frogs in my closet was akin to locking them up in Fort Knox.

And yet, I was reluctant. It seemed kind of gross, somehow, to have these slimy creatures sitting underneath my clothing. What if they splashed icky water on my favorite pants? Made all my clothes smell swamp-like? Or worst of all, ESCAPED. How would I sleep all week, knowing that I might awake to find a frog planted on my face?

But I gave in, and in due time the frogs were smuggled into my closet. I had to admit they were kinda cute. There was a lid, so unless they had mad Houdini skills, they weren't likely to escape.

The next morning, I yawned and stretched and went to my closet to pick out my outfit. And there the frogs were - floating, dead, upside down in the tank.

It turned out that although my mother (a biologist) had de-chlorinated the water, the frogs actually needed pure distilled water. This, of course, is why frogs are canaries in the ecological coalmine, bellweather animals who are among the first to go when water quality goes bad. But I cared little of that in the moment. I just cared that my first encounter of the day had been with dead amphibians. IN MY CLOSET.

New frogs were procured, and with some difficulty my mother convinced me that she had figured out how to keep them alive this time. They survived the week in my closet and were received on the birthday with great joy, as planned.

So I hope, Moxie, that you receive a much-wished-for fish today with great joy, and perhaps some amused appreciation for all the efforts that have gone into procuring your furless friends over the years. Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


The furnace stopped working during the night. For me, there are few things that bring the cranky faster than being cold, and I'm sorry, but 56 degrees inside the house is cold. I half fear that Nelly has, at last, found the Ring of Power, and the first thing she's done is to kill her nemesis. (For more on Nelly's bitter feud with the furnace, see here and here.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

I made the accountant's day today

So I called the accountant to ask some questions about our business return. I've never had an accountant before, nor filed a business tax return other than run-of-the-mill self-employment. Zena and I had run through the forms he prepared for us, and we had a couple of questions.

"What is this box that's checked in Box J, 'Domestic Partner'? I mean, you understand that Zena and I aren't married, right? That we're just business partners?"

There was a long silence, and then he howled with laughter. Seriously, it took him like two whole minutes to catch his breath.

Then he pointed out that the choices for Box J were either "Domestic Partner" or "Foreign Partner." As in - Is this business partner in the US, or overseas? Did I seriously think that the IRS, under the enlightened management of the Bush administration, had created a tax category for civil unions?

Only on the Left Coast could such a misunderstanding occur, I'm sure. But I'm glad I gave the accountant a good belly-laugh in the midst of tax season.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Do we have more leisure, or less?

Let me start by noting that I have not blogged since March 1. Which I will simply explain by saying I have not had a day off work since February 24. Now that I work part time in the secular world and part time in the religious world, every single day can be a work day. Evenings, weekends - it's all a blur. Not that I have put in full days every day since February 24, but that was the last time I had a complete day without paid employment.

I am confident that I will get the hang of it, and my consultant jobs will ease up. But I hear this all the time, from people who feel they have no free time, running their kids around, unable to make a dinner date before May because they're so booked up. In my particular case, I have combined a part-time job requiring significant evening and weekend hours, with self-employment. I am slowly realizing that this could turn out to be a deadly combination, if handled carelessly. Already work is here all the time, glowing in the spare bedroom. My business phone is my cell phone, so the client in Texas calls at 6 am. But that seems to be my particular variant on a very common reality. At least I haven't succumbed to the Blackberry - I do not need my email to follow me absolutely everywhere, thank you very much.

The list of things I'm not attending to builds in my head. Nelly was supposed to have some lab work re-done. I just realized the accountant had my social security number wrong on the business return, does that matter? My favorite pants have a ripped hem, which I curse every time I fling them on during a hurried morning rush, and then promptly forget about until the next time. If these sorts of things catch me up short, what possible hope do I have of hiring a contractor to replace the carport, or of ripping out the nasty moldy caulk in the bathroom, or writing the new book with my sister? And don't even get me started about my dead watch battery, it's just too much, too much!

I am genuinely unsure whether we have more or less leisure time these days. Back in the day - and still, in many places in the world - people worked from sunup to sundown just to survive. Hauling water, sewing their own clothes, growing their own food. Surely that is more grueling? But when the sun goes down, there isn't much more you can do. And maybe the grueling pace of each day's survival used to keep the tradition of Sabbath, in all its many forms, the sacred rest that we now skip.

I'm certain that our lives are less physically strenuous. But did women in the 17th century go to bed thinking of all the things they didn't get done? Dividing their to-do list into A-priorities and B-priorities for the next day? Did the intensity of the labor guarantee them at least a good night's sleep, something fewer and fewer Americans seem to enjoy, if researchers are correct?

I don't mean to sound ungrateful. I just wrote up a little blurb about the fact that women in Africa haul an average of 20 liters of water each day, for an average of 6 kilometers each day. I understand my life is easier. But somehow, we didn't learn the lesson, or we didn't do the work of fundamentally recrafting our society so that we could enjoy our ease. Those of us who made it off the survival treadmill have ended up on a new kind of treadmill. Did we create it ourselves? Or are the same forces as ever pulling the invisible strings?

Thursday, March 01, 2007


I previously mentioned that I might have to reconsider my blogging approach due to a new job, which I can't really talk about in generic terms that would hide the identity of myself and my employer. But I can't really go without blogging about work either, because it drives much of my thinking lately. So, I might sift through two years of entries and cull some out, so that I can, if called to account, stand behind everything I've written, without qualm. That might not be a bad thing regardless. The internet doesn't need my snideness, really.

I've started the new social justice organizing job, and it is both one of the most enjoyable and most humbling things I've ever done. I work for a community of people. Not an organization, not a staff, or a board - a community. That means that if somebody shows up who is mentally ill, or brain damanged, or senile, or just profoundly traumatized by their life experience, they have no less right than any other member of the community who wants to participate in changing the world. I have to find a way to honor and include them, while also acknowledging and dealing with implications like the basic functioning of meetings, and the discomfort of others, and the privileges of confidentiality.

It means that I work with people who are driven to try to change the world out of a set of spiritual beliefs, and expect that perspective to be incorporated into what we do. What the hell do I have to offer on that score? Having left a perfectly lovely church upbringing and wandered in the proverbial wilderness for fully half my life, my hold on spiritual belief is tenuous at best. If people want me to put humanity's greatest challenges and obligations into some kind of cosmological or spiritual framework, they are barking up the wrong damn tree.

And at the same time, communities can be obsessed with details, threatened by change, wildly unpredictable in what they care about at the most mundane level. "I sure am glad we have two masters degrees between us to apply to such an earthshattering decision,"quipped my boss today as I cornered her to confirm my right to reconfigure a prominantly displayed bulletin board. From that standpoint, there is much potential snideness that I could generate in talking about this job. But it would diminish the rest of it - diminish the people, in all their messy and beautiful human-ness - in a way that I just can't bring myself to do.