Tuesday, December 31, 2013

30 Before 30 Reflection: Monthly To-Do Lists

New Year's Eve seems like the right time to reflect on a year, and #30 on my 30 Before 30 was to make and keep monthly to-do lists of projects around the house.

This ambition took on added significant in May when we bought a house. Funny how the "to-dos" pile up quickly.

I wasn't as diligent about keeping a written list as I might have been. Though, one result of this goal is that I now keep a pad of paper in my car, since Carol and I make most of our to-do lists while driving. It's a fun little exercise, and I suppose being away from home makes it easier to reflect on what needs to be done without racing off to do it.

The things we've done that made it onto various lists have ranged from the simple and mundane (pick up the bedroom and living room) to the ambitious (paint the shutters and front door) to the complicated (organize the linen closet led to re-organizing storage in the bedroom, the guest room and both bathrooms) to the skill building (replace all the dingy off-white switches and outlets in the house with new, white ones).

I may not have kept this goal as fastidiously as I'd have liked, but it's the one thing from my 30 Before 30 that really improved my life. And it's simple enough that I'd really encourage you to try it. It's so easy to look at a day spent cleaning or organizing or working around the house as a day lost, but it's not. Just 4 or 5 things each month really left us feeling accomplished and it helped us keep track of how much we achieved.

Monday, December 30, 2013

30 Before 30: Lawrence of Arabia

Watching Lawrence of Arabia, one of the great films I picked as part of my 30 Before 30. left me surprisingly cold.

In part, I blame the pacing. Clearly, my modern sensibility can't handle a 4+ hour movie, and that's way too long for Carol to take in a single sitting. It took us three sessions to watch the whole movie.

But the second piece, the part I find counter-intuitively disturbing, is how post-modern the film felt. Lawrence achieves super-human heights rallying the Arabs to oppose the Turks and their German allies. He also endures tremendous lows, trying and failing to forge a Western democracy among the tribes, not anticipating their cruelty to each other or their conquered foes in the prison camp, and encouraging their lowest impulses in "taking no prisoners" when faced with the retreating marauders (who had committed war crimes of their own).

What disturbed me was how little insight we have into Lawrence. We see the things he does, but that tells us almost nothing of the man and his motives. Is he a supreme egotist, a genius, a lunatic? We can guess, but we know nothing definitively. And perhaps that dates the film- that David Lean was unwilling to fictionalize further in his epic biopic. What makes it hard for me to approach is that, in fiction, this is precisely the kind of story I treasure.

The cinematography was, of course, stunning. I can see the wide pan approach echoed in everything from Lord of the Rings to Inception. But, given modern access to images from around the globe, the cinematography can't be the main draw for me. The story, the characters, have to win out. And in Lawrence of Arabia, I couldn't quite decide if I was watching the story of a hero.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Review: The Guermantes Way

Would I have made it through The Guermantes Way without the plot synopsis and page reference numbers in the appendix?

More importantly, would the third book of Proust's In Search of Lost Time have scuttled my entire project to read his masterpiece?

The Guermantes Way was a bit like reading Leviticus (which I did in a different phase of self-abuse). It was dull, obsessively detailed, and light on characters. To be sure, Proust fills his book with important people, but they are people who were (I think) more important to the world outside the book or (I can hope) will be more important in later chapters.

The most valuable characters in this volume seem to be the grandmother, who does little but die and whose death doesn't impact the Narrator in quite the way I'd have hoped, and Albertine, who returns but is much less interesting than I found her in Within a Budding Grove.

Maybe my disappointment comes from growing to dislike the Narrator's social climbing and the incumbent attention to heritage. At the conclusion of The Guermantes Way, I certainly feel ready to write a screed against the bourgeois excesses of early 20th century France. These people are society, but they seem to do nothing, contribute nothing, and know nothing more than their own petty social caste.

And maybe my disappointment comes from the Narrator's growing dominance of the story arc. My favorite chapter to date has been "Swann in Love" from Swann's Way, and closely following it, the passages from the end of Within a Budding Grove featuring Albertine, Andree and Gisele. The Narrator needs to share the stage.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Word of the Week

past tense: enervated; past participle: enervated
  1. 1.
    cause (someone) to feel drained of energy or vitality; weaken.
    synonyms:exhausttirefatigueweary, wear out, devitalizedrainsapweaken,enfeebledebilitateincapacitateprostrateMore
early 17th cent.: from Latin enervat- ‘weakened (by extraction of the sinews),’ from the verb enervare, from e- (variant of ex- ) ‘out of’ + nervus ‘sinew.’

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

30 Before 30: Visit the National Aquarium

Since visiting Baltimore and the National Aquarium and taking photos of things all occupy important (and acheivable) spots on my 30 Before 30, here's a few pictures from our recent trip to the National Aquarium!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Two Days 'Til Christmas

Which means just over 2 weeks to finish up what I can on my 30 Before 30.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Word of the Week

noun: expedition; plural noun: expeditions
  1. 1.
    a journey or voyage undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose, esp. that of exploration, scientific research, or war.
    "an expedition to the jungles of the Orinoco"
    synonyms:journeyvoyagetour, odyssey; More
    • the people involved in an expedition.
      "many of the expedition have passed rigorous courses"
      synonyms:groupteampartycrewbandsquad More
  2. 2.
    a short trip made for a particular purpose.
    "a shopping expedition"
  3. 3.
    promptness or speed in doing something.
    "the landlord shall remedy the defects with all possible expedition"
late Middle English: via Old French from Latin expeditio(n-), from expedire ‘extricate’ (see expedite). Early senses included ‘prompt supply of something’ and ‘setting out with aggressive intent’ The notions of ‘speed’ and ‘purpose’ are retained in current senses.Sense 1 dates from the late 16th cent.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Friday

Last Friday before vacation. Happy Friday indeed.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Review: Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell

In Monster on the HillRob Harrell of Top Shelf has put together a story that is begging to be turned into a Pixar film.

The monster Rayburn isn't particularly excited about his job terrorizing the people of Stoker-on-Avon. But terror is big business in this Victorian world, and the town fathers enlist a local inventor to prod Ray into action. With a tag along urchin in tow, the trio set out to visit one of Ray's old school buddies to help restore Ray's self-confidence.

Unfortunately, while out of town, a real monster shows up. Ray and his friends must race back to Stoker-on-Avon to deal with the crisis.

A children's story with the right mix of morals and hijinx, my favorite part of Monster on the Hill was the brilliantly drawn world Ray and his friends inhabit. With bold colors and odd shapes, Harrell builds a Seuss-like world filled with quirks and just enough magic to keep the readers on their toes.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Word of the Week

noun: travelogue; plural noun: travelogues
  1. 1.
    a movie, book, or illustrated lecture about the places visited and experiences encountered by a traveler.
early 20th cent.: from travel, on the pattern of monologue .

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Birches by Robert Frost

I love Robert Frost's digressions in Birches. His mastery of poetry is evident (to me) in the way he seems to wander away from his point, then shows you that he's had a slightly different point in his crosshairs all along.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
And today is the kind of day to read Birches. When you're tired but going on anyway, because that's what you do, and it's good that you go on. Because this is the right place to live, although you might like to get away a while.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Citizen Kane

Goal #22 on my 30 Before 30 is to watch five great movies I've never seen. Sunday night, Carol and I watched Citizen Kane.

If you want a thorough analysis of Citizen Kane, go elsewhere. Here, or here, or here are good places to start. I'm not steeped enough in the history of cinema to weigh in meaningfully.

I'm really interested in the development of the character. Kane is a blank slate in many ways; in the movie's opening scenes, his mother inherits a tremendous fortune and sends him off to have the most wonderful life that money can buy. Unburdened by the demand to be profitable, Kane is able to be successful- to develop a declaration of principles and to live by them. His convictions galvanize the people around him, or at least, they understand that in the presence of the money man, they are to act galvanized. One of the most telling scenes is the party to celebrate the success of Kane's newspaper, when Kane's friends wonder to each other how long it will be until the real world begins to corrupt their young leader.

I'm also interested in the framing tale. The reporter's search for the meaning to "Rosebud" gives the movie its forward momentum; it justifies the act of telling. The reporter's failure is a classic nod- Mighty Casey strikes out, Frodo can't bring himself to throw the Ring into the volcano after all, Oedipus is as Oedipus does.

I especially enjoyed how many shots from the opening scene were echoed in later shots, especially the long rise up to the top of the gate/ house echoed in the even longer rise up from the Opera House stage to the crew mocking the show from the rafters. It's a common device in comics, and it made the three hour movie feel connected throughout its acts.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Word of the Week

adjective: tragic
  1. 1.
    causing or characterized by extreme distress or sorrow.
    "the shooting was a tragic accident"
  2. 2.
    of or relating to tragedy in a literary work.
mid 16th cent.: from French tragique, via Latin from Greek tragikos, from tragos ‘goat,’ but associated with tragōidia (see tragedy).

Friday, December 6, 2013

Happy First Friday

I'm headed to Board Game Night at the local library. Because no one is cooler than I am.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Review: Within a Budding Grove

I finished the second book of In Search of Lost Time over Thanksgiving weekend, and I was struck by its deliberate pace.

The Victorians move their books slowly, and I dislike them for that. Dickens in particular is a long jangle of plot twists that never seem to go anywhere, but Austen and the Brontes, too, move at a snail's pace. There are twenty thousand words for every action.

Proust moves even more slowly, but I enjoy it more. It's not the slowness of action and inaction filling the page, it's that he fills every page with thoughts. What is the narrator thinking, what does he think the person he's talking to is thinking, what is that person actually thinking, and then finally, what do they say to each other?

It's an extraordinary novel, but at times it feels like an exercise. In the same way that Joyce challenges his readers to keep up with him (spattering his pages with references to Greek mythology and the Latin mass), Proust seems to challenge the reader to follow him down the rabbit hole into his own head. His passages on memory and longing for the possible strike me the most.

I'm thankful I have an edition with key plot points summarized, because otherwise I might have become hopelessly lost in the unclear passage of time.