Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Color Me English

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Though I remember where I was on that day and what I did all that week - mostly in a cloud of fog, I kinda cringe each year on September 11: it tends to bring out the worse kinda of nationalism. Including couples wearing matching American flag clothing. (This is also why I tend to avoid the 4th of July: a) I've done the LGBTQ float twice and been called a fag both times, buy people who stepped out of the crowd into the parade and into my face; b) Lee Greenwood singing "God Bless America" is my sleeper trigger and could lead to the deaths of those around me...sort of like Spike in the last season of Buffy.)

It was Joan Didion's essay "Fixed Ideas: America since 9.11" that I most agreed with: the attacks on the World Trade Towers could've brought the world closer together but instead we isolated ourselves, and clothed ourselves in symbols and hatred and the Tea Party.

So, it isn't surprising that it took a Caribbean-born (St. Kitts), British-raised (Leeds) author of color, who now lives in New York, to get me to pick up a book with 9/11 in it's subtitle.

(Kirkus Review) A collection of essays on the themes of race, the African diaspora, otherness and identity, from a Caribbean-born, British-raised, and United States–based writer with a sharp eye for the tensions of modern society.

In what could be seen as a sequel to A New World Order: Essays (2001), Phillips, who is better known as a novelist (In the Falling Snow, 2009, etc.), again explores issues of migration and shares his insights into writers and their role in shaping their world. Written over nearly two decades and seemingly for a variety of publications, these highly personal musings open with Phillips's childhood in Leeds, where for a time he was the only black child in his school. For a Muslim newcomer, Ali, the difference was culture and religion. Though Phillips found he was "being coloured English," he saw that Ali remained an outsider. "Distant Shores" contains six pieces on his perceptions and experiences in both Europe and Africa. Europe, he writes, is no longer white and no longer Judeo-Christian, and it never will be again. However, with the help of literature as a bulwark against intolerance, societies can make the necessary transition and transform themselves. The longest section, titled "Outside In," looks at writers in exile—e.g., James Baldwin in France, Ha Jin in the United States and Chinua Achebe in Canada. The four essays in "Homeland Security," written between 2001 and 2006, show Phillips' disappointment over the failure of America to live up to its image as a land of freedom and equality, but also his hope that storytelling will restore the spirit of the country. Profiles, movie and book reviews and autobiographical and journalistic sketches complete the collection.

Caryl Phillips is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction. His novel A Distant Shore won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

From his website:

His novels are: The Final Passage (1985), A State of Independence (1986), Higher Ground (1989), Cambridge (1991), Crossing the River (1993), The Nature of Blood (1997), A Distant Shore (2003), Dancing in the Dark (2005), Foreigners (2007), and In the Falling Snow (2009). His non-fiction: The European Tribe (1987), The Atlantic Sound (2000), A New World Order (2001), and Colour Me English (2011). He is the editor of two anthologies: Extravagant Strangers: A Literature of Belonging (1997) and The Right Set: An Anthology of Writing on Tennis (1999). His work has been translated into over a dozen languages.

Low Town

I think the back cover says it all...

Drug dealers, hustlers, brothels, dirty politics, corrupt cops...and sorcery.

Welcome to Low Town


Daniel Polansky (on the right) was born in Baltimore Maryland in 1984 (Damn! He's younger than my last boyfriend!) and is currently Team Lead for Content and Curriculum Development at Envictus, an e-learning startup. I chose this photo over his author photo for two reasons: his glasses aren't hiding his face (I do this too) and that great big gorgeous smile. :)

Low Town is his first book.

Dream Boy

In the summer of 1993 after much self-bludgeoning, I finally came out to myself with a little help from the boy who would be my first love and my first lover.


No, that's wrong. In the summer of 1993 after much self-bludgeoning and tearful prayers in the lonely dark of my bedroom, I finally accepted what I had known for quite a few years about myself with a little help from the boy who would be my first love and my first lover.

I was at a summer program for gifted students, and I was studying music and making music videos on the cement-bound campus of Northern Kentucky University. My next door neighbor in the dorms was an odd blonde character named Donnye, and he was from Somerset. I'm not exactly sure how it came about that I told him that I liked guys because really up until then I wouldn't have admitted it, because I didn't know that was a thing to do...maybe he told me first and maybe he said it in such a way that I knew I could say it too.

We spent the rest of the summer together, though I still spent a lot of time with a couple of girls who were just friends but my bestfriends that summer, and my fellow music students (oh, Ruth, how I miss you) and my roommate and the other guys in the dorm. But then there were moments when it was just me and Donnye, and we'd be making out. Or naked together. Sometimes my roommate would be on the phone on his bed with his girlfriend and he'd pull the covers over his head and Donnye and I would make out and giggle. It was my first foray into sucking dick too...I don't think it was his, but he gave me my first blowjob.

I want to say that it was amazing but I'd already jerked off so much that day that when I finally came - more from the novelty of the act than the feeling of it - I came so little that Donnye couldn't tell. I had to tap him on the shoulder to tell him to stop. When he looked up, my cum somehow popped out of his mouth and landed on his chin, and being new to all this, it kinda grossed me out, but in a funny way. I remember sort of doing a dance of disgust while laughing my head off.

But I loved him. (And I no longer do the dance of disgust when it comes to, well, cum.) Going back home after that summer was very frightening and very sad, and I became obsessed with the feeling of love I'd had that summer. I visited Donnye a couple of times in Somerset, and it became clear that I felt more than he did (or at least it seemed that way until one Christmas he called me from Louisville where he'd gone to college, and I went to visit him.)

And I realize that whenever I meet someone or (gasp) go on a date, it's that summer feeling that I try to get back to. While my life hasn't (thankfully) included the violence that surfaces in Jim Grimsley's Dream Boy, my life has always included the fear of it. When I returned home, I returned to a family unprepared for who I was, a high school that suddenly became a minefield of verbal bullying (I skipped probably half of my senior year.) and a community rife with Christian-inspired cruelty.

I found family on the fringes of my school: the misfits and the girls who would eventually become fag hags. I can look back now and see the other boys who hung with those same girls, and I wonder how I didn't pick up on the fact that they WERE like me?

Dream Boy has both...that "summer" feeling but sadly also - not simply fear - violence as well. But I agree with Justin Torres who writes on NPR's You Must Read This, "I wish that back then someone had put this book in my hands."

In 1995, when I was a sophomore in high school, an older, popular boy came out of the closet. He was taunted daily until he dropped out. I never saw him again.

Months later, a decidedly unpopular, more flamboyant boy was beaten in the schoolyard. I remember escorting him to the nurse's office. I remember the look of disgust on the nurse's face; I don't know whether this disgust was directed at the act of savagery, or at the bleeding boy himself, and his arm around my shoulder. I also remember thinking that soon it would be my turn, and sure enough it was.

That same year, 1995, saw the publication of Dream Boy. In it, author Jim Grimsley confronts the violence of adolescent homophobia, but also, and maybe more importantly, he describes the emotional texture — the loneliness — of growing up queer, and the bravery and special intensity of finding love in a hostile environment. Grimsley demonstrates that two working-class boys loving each other, in the rural South, is an act as profound as it is simple.

I wish that back then someone had put this book in my hands. I didn't come to Dream Boy until nearly a decade later, at the suggestion of author Dorothy Allison, who insisted that it wasn't enough just to write the violence — that we need to write the tenderness as well. "Read Grimsley," she said; he's one who had gotten it right.

I now have no idea where Donnye is. I can't find him on Facebook. I've thought about calling UofL's alumni office but haven't yet. It isn't so much that I think for some reason NOW we'd be good together, but he's someone I care for, and those someones I want to keep close.

Jim Grimsley is the award winning author of Winter Birds (amazing), Dream Boy (heart wrenching, see above), Boulevard, My Drowning and others. Lately, he's been writing Science Fiction as well. He was born in 1955 and currently lives in Atlanta. Thank you, Jim, for your work. Sadly, I wish I had found it a decade earlier: I think I would've been stronger for it. :)

Justin Torres contributed the review of Dream Boy. He's a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop (so envious). His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House and Glimmer Train. He is also a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and very, very cute!

Happy Hump Day

Via NG3.0

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Family Fang

Contrary to what one may expect from such a title, no, there are no werewolves in this book.

Via NPR's Fresh Air:

There's a temperature at which water boils and there's a temperature at which the brain melts and we've reached it. It's August, and almost everywhere in the country, it's hot. The will to think has oozed out in millions of droplets of forehead sweat. That's why it's such a minty fresh delight to open up Kevin Wilson's debut novel, The Family Fang, and feel the revitalizing blast of original thought, robust invention, screwball giddiness. Every copy of The Family Fang sold in August should have a sticker on it imprinted with the life-giving invitation that used to be issued on movie marquees in summertime during the dawn of the air-conditioning age: "Come on in! It's cooool inside!"

Meet the Family Fang: Caleb and Camille Fang (that odd last name was supposedly shortened from something Slavic at Ellis Island) are renowned husband-and-wife conceptual artists. They've won a slew of awards, even the MacArthur "Genius" prize. For years, they've been videotaping transgressive improvisational pieces that involve their children, Annie and Buster, known to fans of "Fang Art" as "Child A" and "Child B."

To give an example: In a 1985 piece called "The Last Supper," the Fangs take their then-young kids to the most expensive French restaurant in town. All their parents tell Buster and Annie are the dread words that the events to come will be "fun." Throughout dinner, the Fang parents are utterly silent, but keep checking their watches. The children become increasingly tense, especially Buster who's been ordered at the outset to finish every scrap of the shimmering piece of purple liver on his plate. Finally, the suspense gets to Buster's intestines and he projectile vomits what Wilson describes as the "dark red ... remains of a shredded animal" across the white table cloth.

The fancy dining room erupts in cries of disgust and the Fangs leap up and rush their children out to the parking lot (of course, also skipping out on the check). Speeding away in the family van, the Fang parents congratulate their children for unknowingly collaborating on another great piece of art that "disrupt[s] the world ... make[s] it vibrate."

As you might expect, there comes a time in teenage-hood when Annie and Buster refuse to be manipulated any longer as props in their parents' artistic "happenings." (I won't give anything away; I'll just tell you that the rift occurs after a hilariously incestuous high school performance of Romeo and Juliet.) In the present time of the novel, however, Annie and Buster as adults have had to return to their parents' house, seeking refuge there from life's catastrophes. Annie, a Hollywood actress, has been devastated by a mean publicity campaign; Buster, a writer, has been seriously wounded in the face while on a freelance magazine assignment.

The Fang parents aren't faring so well, either. Historically, most of their performance pieces took place in shopping malls, where a ready audience of shocked onlookers could always be found. But these days, so many folks wall themselves off with earbuds and iPhones that the Fangs' recent spectacles have fallen flat. As Caleb Fang laments, "People have become so stupid that you can't control them." Camille agrees. "They are so resistant to any strangeness that they tune out the whole world. God, it's so damn depressing." Uneasily reunited in the family house, licking their life wounds, the younger Fangs have to reckon with the price of Caleb and Camille's narcissistic core belief that, "Art, if you loved it, was worth any amount of unhappiness and pain."

This premise could easily have devolved into pop psychodrama, but think, instead, of something like Little Miss Sunshine — a family story that's out-of-the-box, and funny, and, also, genuinely moving. Wilson's inventive genius never stops for a rest break. He spins out entertaining scenarios for the Fang performance pieces, as well as loony summaries for Buster's novels and Annie's movies, as well as what unfolds as the present-time suspense plot of the disappearance of Caleb and Camille. Is it genuine or is it yet another Fang performance piece? Early on in the novel, we're told that the strange art the Fangs create has been glowingly described by critics as "choreographed spontaneity." Wilson might as well have been writing a review for his own strange and wonderful novel, for The Family Fang indeed reads as a work of "choreographed spontaneity" that will linger in your mind long after the mall has closed and the mess in the restaurant has been cleaned up.

Kevin Wilson is the author of the story collection Tunneling to the Center of the Earth [currently waiting for me at the 2nd floor Fiction desk - Writer] which received an Alex Award from the American Library Association and the Shirley Jackson Award. He lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, with his wife, the poet Leigh Anne Couch, and his son, Griff, where he teaches fiction at the University of the South and helps run the Sewanee Writers' Conference.

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

Via NPR's Morning Edition:

"We don't really have cocktail hour — we have cocktail days," says Alexandra Fuller's mother. Her stories often begin, "Well, there was rather a lot to drink ..." and inevitably end with "chaos and madness and hilarity."

In her first memoir, Alexandra Fuller painted an unforgettable portrait of her mother, a young British woman raised in Kenya, as a madcap adventuress with a predilection for drama. Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight chronicled the family's life in Rhodesia — the country now known as Zimbabwe — where Fuller's parents saw three of their five children die as babies and toddlers. Fuller's mother stars again in her new book, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness.

In Fuller's second memoir, she reaches back much further — into her mother's early life — and probes her about the imagined paradise of the Africa she grew up in. Through the writing of her latest book, Fuller discovers a mother she never knew — a dynamic if troubled woman who would introduce herself as "Nicola Fuller of Central Africa" and saw herself as a character of high romance.

"She, at some point, must've looked around and decided that all her literary heroines — Beryl Markham and Isak Dinesen — had flown airplanes," Fuller tells Morning Edition's Renee Montagne. "This was something she did not have in her repertoire, and therefore her biography was incomplete. So she signed herself up with this charlatan flying instructor and taught herself how to fly."

Alexandra Fuller was born in England in 1969. In 1972, she moved with her family to a farm in southern Africa. She lived in Africa until her midtwenties. In 1994, she moved to Wyoming with her husband.

WTF? England to Africa to Wyoming? Wyoming?? Huh.

OMG: Cold Star

Thank you, OMGblog

Jazzy Beau: James Tormé

I imagine that James Tormé and I suffer from the same pictoral disease: we can appear either really, really pretty in pictures taken of us or possibly not. We could have a face that sinks a 1000 ships or we could have the face that just needs to be sunk. Either way...I find him awfully pretty on the cover of his new CD "Love For Sale."

Granted, I know I'll hate the music...I haven't like a male jazz singer since Chet Baker and the 1950s...but at least the CD is pretty to look at.

And, yes, that is Tormé as in the son of Mel Tormé.

Anatomy of a Disappearance

Nuri is a young boy when his mother dies. It seems that nothing will fill the emptiness that her strange death leaves behind in the Cairo apartment he shares with his father. Until they meet Mona, sitting in her yellow swimsuit by the pool of the Magda Marina hotel. As soon as Nuri sees her, the rest of the world vanishes. But it is Nuri’s father with whom Mona falls in love and whom she eventually marries. And their happiness consumes Nuri to the point where he wishes his father would disappear.

Nuri will, however, soon regret what he wished for. His father, long a dissident in exile from his homeland, is taken under mysterious circumstances. And, as the world that Nuri and his stepmother share is shattered by events beyond their control, they begin to realize how little they knew about the man they both loved.

Anatomy of a Disappearance is written with all the emotional precision and intimacy that have won Hisham Matar tremendous international recognition. In a voice that is delicately wrought and beautifully tender, he asks: When a loved one disappears, how does their absence shape the lives of those who are left?

We have the book In the Country of Men here! I've always loved the cover, and I like this image of the author better than the one that accompanies his current book: he's grown his hair out and I just don't like his glassses - so, yes, I'm being superficial.

Hisham Matar was born in New York City to Libyan parents and spent his childhood first in Tripoli and then in Cairo. His first novel, In the Country of Men, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Guardian First Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It won six international literary awards, including the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First book award for Europe and South Asia, the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, and the inaugural Arab American Book Award. It has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Matar lives in London and serves as an adjunct associate professor at Barnard College in New York City.

Read an interview with Matar at Words Without Borders.

The New Yorker: Hisham Matar on Libya

Tuesday Beau: William Levy

Who is William Levy? And why isn't he currently kissing me? (Well, besides that whole have a wife and kids thing.)

Oh, Aminals

I thought in my next life I'd like to be a, I've decided I want to be a bonobo.

Nature documentaries often depict animal life as a grim struggle for survival, but this visually stunning book opens our eyes to a different, more scientifically up-to-date way of looking at the animal kingdom.

In more than one hundred thirty striking images, The Exultant Ark celebrates the full range of animal experience with dramatic portraits of animal pleasure ranging from the charismatic and familiar to the obscure and bizarre. These photographs, windows onto the inner lives of pleasure seekers, show two polar bears engaged in a bout of wrestling, hoary marmots taking time for a friendly chase, Japanese macaques enjoying a soak in a hot spring, a young bull elk sticking out his tongue to catch snowflakes, and many other rewarding moments. Biologist and best-selling author Jonathan Balcombe is our guide, interpreting the images within the scientific context of what is known about animal behavior.

In the end, old attitudes fall away as we gain a heightened sense of animal individuality and of the pleasures that make life worth living for all sentient beings.

It is exactly like Isaiah 11:6: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid...” Written by National Geographic magazine writer Jennifer Holland, Unlikely Friendships documents one heartwarming tale after another of animals who, with nothing else in common, bond in the most unexpected ways. A cat and a bird. A mare and a fawn. An elephant and a sheep. A snake and a hamster. The well-documented stories of Koko the gorilla and All Ball the kitten; and the hippo Owen and the tortoise Mzee. And almost inexplicable stories of predators befriending prey—an Indian leopard slips into a village every night to sleep with a calf. A lionness mothers a baby oryx. Ms. Holland narrates the details and arc of each story, and also offers insights into why—how the young leopard, probably motherless, sought maternal comfort with the calf, and how a baby oryx inspired the same mothering instinct in the lionness. Or, in the story of Kizzy, a nervous retired Greyhound, and Murphy, a red tabby, how cats and dogs actually understand each other’s body language. With Murphy’s friendship and support, Kizzy recovered from life as a racing dog and became a confident, loyal family pet.

These are the most amazing friendships between species, collected from around the world and documented in a selection of full-color candid photographs.

Tuesday Beau: Vance Winter

Mister Handsome Man

Thank you to David Allen Waters for suggesting that Vance is my younger twin. :)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Weekend: Well Go On Then

Thank you, Bear of a Man

Life Coffee Coffee Life

From Remembrance of Things I Forgot by Bob Smith:

The gallery had a small kitchen area, and I must have been in back getting a cup of coffee. I'd started drinking coffee under Sylvia's tutelage. "John," she'd say while filling each of our mugs, "drinking coffee is how adults face the day; the ritual of turning an initially repellent bitter brew into something more palatable each morning - by adding milk and Sweet and Low, or, since you're still young and distressingly slender, real sugar - and then actually convincing yourself that you not only look forward to it, but actually relish it, is a daily lesson in how to live."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Goodnight Hump Day

Via Sozo's Blog

NextReads: Horror August 2011

The Passage: a novel by Justin Cronin

A super-secret military research project has gone awry, creating powerful vampire-like creatures ("virals") that threaten to overrun a world already reeling from environmental disasters. Into this apocalyptic scene steps a little girl named Amy, who shares some qualities with the "virals" but is not a voracious, bloodthirsty monster. Embattled survivors of the apocalyptic events hope Amy can provide the key to vanquishing the monsters. In a desperate cross-country expedition to find and rescue other survivors, the determined band of normal people have to face down powerful and gruesome evil. For another unusual vampire tale, read Stephen King's Salem's Lot.

Read my review of The Passage here.

The Cobra Event by Richard Preston

The Cobra Event opens with a sense of dread--it's obvious that the cold Katie wakes up with is no ordinary virus even before the infection gets out of control. After two victims die, the CDC investigator finds that their brains have turned to mush and they have been…eating themselves. Though author Richard Preston's only novel is generally considered a thriller, this story's realistic premise is horror at its most terrifying. What if someone develops a virus and releases it just because he thinks there should be fewer people in the world? For another scary tale about evil scientists unleashing havoc, read The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry.

Contagious: a novel by Scott Sigler

In Infected, aliens planning an invasion of Earth created a virus that turned humans violent and paranoid. Now, in this sequel, the aliens have sent in an updated virus that is spread by human contact. Perry Dawsey, one of the heroes from Infected, can tune in to the aliens' chatter and finds out they are building portals for the first wave of invaders. Dawsey joins forces once again with entomologist Margaret Montoya and CIA agent Dew Phillips, and the trio must find a way to head off the new virus...ich has already appeared in a little girl in Michigan. Booklist calls this "B-movie horror of the highest order."

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

A plane lands at JFK and goes dark. Nobody gets off. When authorities board the aircraft, expecting a possible hostage-taking, they find nearly everyone dead and the survivors strongly craving raw meat. As CDC officials begin to investigate a potential epidemic, they discover a parasite unknown to science: it turns people into vampire-like creatures...and then havoc is unleashed. Movie maker Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy films; Oscar winner for Pan's Labyrinth) has teamed up with thriller writer Chuck Hogan for this terrifying story, the 1st in a planned trilogy which continues in The Fall.

I Want!

The clothes, darling, not (necessarily) the models. ;)

Via UnderGear

Happy Hump Day

Via Sozo's Blog

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

NextReads: Historical Fiction August 2011

March: a novel by Geraldine Brooks

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Mr. March, the absent father in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, comes alive through a combination of correspondence and diary entries. Captain John March (a stand-in for the real-life Bronson Alcott) is an abolitionist clergyman who becomes a Union army chaplain during the Civil War. Although his letters to Marmee, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are optimistic, the reality of his situation is grim. As he witnesses firsthand the horrors of war, survives serious illness, and is unexpectedly reunited with a woman from his past, March finds himself irrevocably changed by his experiences.

Ransom by David Malouf

After Achilles slays Trojan warrior Hector to avenge the death of his beloved companion, Patroclus, the Greek hero ties his fallen adversary's body to his chariot and spends 11 days dragging the corpse around the walls of Troy. Hector's grief-stricken father, King Priam, braves the enemy camp in order to ransom his son's body back from Achilles, who refuses to either return it or give it a proper burial. Although the "cinematic vividness" (Publishers Weekly) of Ransom's prose differs from the more contemporary idiom of Barry Unsworth's The Songs of the Kings, both novels are inspired by events depicted in Homer's Iliad and focus on the human dimension of the epic tale.

My Jim: a novel by Nancy Rawles

While Huckleberry Finn and runaway slave Jim were rafting down the Mississippi River, Jim's wife Sadie, the mother of his two children, remained in slavery. In My Jim, Sadie tells her story, beginning with the history of her relationship with Jim and describing what happened to her and their family after he left. The dialect-rich style of Sadie's first-person narrative may appeal to readers who enjoyed Ernest J. Gaines' The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. For another retelling of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that examines issues of race and family relationships, try Jon Clinch's Finn, which focuses on "Pap" Finn, Huck's infamous father.

Hester: the missing years of The Scarlet Letter: a novel by Paula Reed

At the end of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the author reveals that Hester Prynne and her child, Pearl, left Puritan Boston to travel abroad. In Hester, novelist Paula Reed sends the pair to England, where Hester hopes that Pearl, whose reputation suffers as a result of her mother's transgressions, will have better prospects. But Hester soon attracts the notice of Oliver Cromwell, who wishes to take advantage of Hester's ability to detect the sins of others--which puts both mother and daughter in a dangerous position. For another perspective on these classic literary characters, check out Deborah Noyes' interpretation of Pearl in Angel and Apostle.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Originally published in 1966, Jean Rhys' postcolonial prequel to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre tells the story of the first Mrs. Rochester, the "madwoman in the attic" who ended her days sequestered in Thornfield Hall. Born in British-controlled Jamaica, high-spirited Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway contends with her mother's mental illness and her brother's untimely death before embarking on an arranged marriage to an Englishman. As their relationship disintegrates, Antoinette--dubbed "Bertha" by her husband--begins to fall apart.

Steven Jay Russell for...

...President! I think he'd be perfect for the job...well, if we could keep him from embezzling the money.

Via The Guardian:

"This is a love story," he says, light and breezy as a chatshow host. "It's about what a person will do, who is in love, who can't see the forest for the trees." He smiles his crooked smile and sits back in his chair. A glimmer of sweat appears on the flesh just beneath his right eye and he wipes it away rapidly with the sleeve of his shirt.

Steven Jay Russell has many other names. As well as the 14 known aliases he used while fabricating bogus credentials and passing himself off variously as a judge, a doctor, an FBI agent and a bar student, he has been nicknamed "Houdini" and "King Con" for his remarkable ability to escape from prison. From 1992, when he was imprisoned for the relatively minor charge of insurance fraud, Russell managed to escape four times from several different Texan jails over a five-year period. His story has been immortalised in a film starring Jim Carrey: it had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January and is due to be released in the UK next year. Critics have already called it "top notch" and "an hilarious tragedy" in the vein of Steven Spielberg's 2002 hit movie Catch Me if You Can, which recounts the real-life story of con artist Frank Abagnale Jr.

Like Abagnale, who successfully stole millions of dollars by posing as a pilot, an attorney and a doctor, Russell's life story is also the stuff of improbable fiction. His escapes were marked by astonishing brazenness that left law-enforcement officials slack-jawed in bafflement. But unlike Abagnale, Russell's shenanigans were driven by his obsessive love for a fellow inmate called Phillip Morris whom he met in jail in 1995. (The escapes always took place on Friday 13th, the day on which Morris was born.)

"It was lust at first sight," says Russell now, in his first interview since the film went into production. "I didn't think it was possible. I mean, we were in prison! He was softly spoken, with a deep southern accent. I saw him in the law library trying to get a book. He's short – he's only 5ft 2 and I'm 6ft 2, and I said, 'Hold on, I'll get that for you.' And that was it."

Okay, okay...maybe not president, but I definitely feel like his 144 year sentence is more about the state of Texas being put in it's place, not about him actually doing anything. >:(

Monday, August 22, 2011

Yoü and I Beau

The mad scientist (and his lovely wing tattoo) from Lady Gaga's Yoü and I video.

Any word on who this hunk is?

Beau: Seven Spark

If anyone can download this to their desktop, email it to me, so I can take it home for my collection. Thanks.

Via Black Spark and the Clouds

See Peeps?

I can too smile. ;)

Great Book: Fair Play

This is a detail of a painting by Tove Jansson: "Portrait of Tuulikki Pietilä" c. 1975. Tuulikki Pietilä was Jansson's long time companion.

I spent much of Fair Play wondering which character was which. Fair Play is semi-autobiographical and I wondered whether Jonna or Mari was more equivalent to Tove. And I believe in the chapter called "Stars" we find out. Throughout Fair Play the story is told in 3rd person but in stars there is one paragraph that captures Mari's thoughts, yet it is never written "Mari thought" this or that...I simply starts out with "I."

Mari went out on the granite slope.

I know. I remember what he wants. To lie on his back in the heather and look at the stars a whole autumn night and listen to the sea without having to say a word. But there was never enough time...If only it doesn't get cloudy. Once he promised we'd live in a tent on Åland for a whole week, and I waited and waited but he sent word that he had too much editing to do...I borrowed a bicycle and pedaled all night. It was June and the nights were light and there were rosehips blooming everywhere and I found the village where his mother lived and she said, "Aha, so you're Johannes' friend. Come in and have some coffee." I could ride a bicycle again sometime; they say you don't forget, it's like swimming...

Mari and Jonna woke up early. The weather was clear and quite cold.

"So you don't want to take the primus stove?"

"No, no," Mari said. "It has to be a campfire. The campfire is very important."

Tom came right on schedule, a tiny dot in a straight line toward the island. Pretty soon they could see there was only one person in the boat. He jumped ashore and tied up. Johannes had called the store to say that he had too much work at the paper, unfortunately, and he was sorry.

"Oh, well," said Mari. "It doesn't matter." She turned abruptly and walked up toward the cottage.

Jonna was silent for quite a while.

Tom said, "Those old posts you were talking about. Shall we have a look?"

They went and looked at the posts. Some of them were only good for firewood, but quite a few could be used in Tom's new dock.

Jonna said, "It's funny about me, I've never really understood camping trips. Your sister gets a little too romantic at times. Changing the subject, are you busy with anything at the moment?"

"Just puttying the windows."

"Is it a long time since you slept in a sleeping bag?"

"Oh, maybe twenty years, I guess."

When Mari and Tom headed off for Västerbådan, Jonna stood watching until the boat disappeared behind the skerries. The wind had died.

That night she went out on the slope beside the cottage. Not one cloud disturbed the stars.

A perfect night. (94-95)

Tove Jansson's Art of Play

Tove Jansson (on right) and her longtime companion Tuulikki Pietilä spent most of each Summer (if not all) at this cabin on an island in the Gulf of Finland.

Monday Beau

Gotta get squeaky clean for a new week of work.

Via Sozo's Blog

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday Beau, or...

...Maybe I'll get to go swimming next summer.

Via Baxter's Briefs

Friday, August 19, 2011

Oh, Kentucky...

Via CBS News'Health Pop:

A Kentucky man wants his day in court after going in for a routine circumcision on October 9, 2007 - and waking up without a penis.

Phillip Seaton of Waddy and his wife, Deborah claim in a lawsuit that Dr. John Patterson of Louisville did not consult them before removing Seaton's penis. They're seeking damages for "loss of service, love and affection." The trial is set to begin Monday.

Dr. Patterson maintains the removal was necessary because he found cancer during the surgery.

Kevin George, Seatons' attorney, said Dr. Patterson's post-surgical notes show the doctor thought he detected cancer and removed the penis. Lab tests confirmed Seaton had squamous cell carcinoma.

But George said the situation was not an emergency, and argued the family should have been allowed to get a second opinion.

The doctor disagreed.

"While it is unfortunate that he developed this cancer, it is both unfair and unreasonable to blame a physician for providing what was appropriate and necessary care for his condition," Patterson said in a 2008 press release reported by The State Journal of Frankfort, Ky.

Was the doctor right to cut off Seaton's penis? Or did Seaton get shafted?

But the case raises a serious question. Can a doctor just decide to take this step if he/she feels it will save a patient's life?

Whether or not a surgeon has the right to perform surgery is "a difficult question," Dr. Douglas Diekema, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Circumcision Task Force told CBS News in an email. "If the situation is truly, imminently life threatening, they can and should act."

But Diekema, who was not involved with this case, added, "If there is sufficient time to wake the patient and discuss the situation with the patient, that is generally preferred - particularly if the discovery of something like cancer will involve the removal of an organ or limb."

Poor guy, but LOL.

West Memphis 3 Released

YES! Proof that convicting someone for wearing black and listening to heavy metal isn't enough to keep them in prison forever.

Via Reuters:

Three convicted murderers will be freed after nearly two decades behind bars.

The controversial case of the so-called "West Memphis Three" inspired a heated debate about their guilt or innocence and attracted the attention of some of Hollywood's biggest celebrities.

The earlier convictions were not overturned completely. Rather through a legal maneuver, the three men will maintain their innocence, while acknowledging that there was enough evidence against them for a murder conviction.

In releasing the "West Memphis Three," a district court judge said the men had served their time, but issued a 10-year suspended sentence against them.

The case of the men, who were convicted of killing three 8-year old boys in the small town of West Memphis, Ark., has drawn nationwide protest. An effort to free them inspired the support of celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, and Henry Rollins.

After being reported missing, the naked bodies of the three boys were found mutilated in a ditch.

Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr., were imprisoned for the crime in 1993. Echols was give the death penalty and the other two men were serving life sentences, yet the evidence against them was considered slight.

The case became the subject of the acclaimed 1996 documentary "Paradise Lost" and a 2000 sequel "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations."

The filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky produced a third film for HBO, "Paradise Lost: Purgatory" that is scheduled to be released this January.

"Eighteen years and three films ago, we started this journey to document the terrible murders of three innocent boys and the subsequent circus that followed the arrests and convictions of Baldwin, Echols and Misskelly,” Berlinger said in a statement. “To see our work culminate in the righting of this tragic miscarriage of justice is more than a filmmaker could ask for.”

Berlinger and Sinofsky were in court Friday to watch the three men's release.

According to Deadline, Peter Jackson and his production partner Fran Walsh have helped fund the legal defense of the "West Memphis Three" for years.

The controversy centered around the prosecution's failure to articulate a strong motive for the murders. At the time, they claimed that three men had been inspired to murder the boys as part of a Satanic ritual.

Efforts to overturn the convictions gained steam five months ago, after new evidence found no DNA traces from the three men at the scene of the crime. The evidence also indicated that another person may have been at the scene and that animals may have mutilated the three bodies.

Also if you haven't seen "Paradise Lost" do so. It is a superb documentary!

A Crooked Path to Spirituality

As a fairly emotional person, non-violence in my outer and inner selves is what I strive for. It's too easy to give into emotion and end up reacting and emoting in ways that neither benefit me or those around me.

"One has to speak out and stand up for one's convictions. Inaction at a time of conflagration is inexcusable."—Mahatma Gandhi

The basic principles of Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence (Ahimsa) and non-violent action (Satyagraha)were chosen by Thomas Merton for this volume in 1965. In his challenging Introduction, "Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant," Merton emphasizes the importance of action rather than mere pacifism as a central component of non-violence, and illustrates how the foundations of Gandhi's universal truths are linked to traditional Hindu Dharma,the Greek philosophers, and the teachings of Christ and Thomas Aquinas.

Educated as a Westerner in South Africa, it was Gandhi's desire to set aside the caste system as well as his political struggles in India which led him to discover the dynamic power of non-cooperation. But, non-violence for Gandhi "was not simply a political tactic," as Merton observes: "the spirit of non-violence sprang from an inner realization of spiritual unity in himself." Gandhi's politics of spiritual integrity have influenced generations of people around the world, as well as civil rights leaders from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Steve Biko to Václav Havel and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mark Kurlansky has written an insightful preface for this edition that touches upon the history of non-violence and reflects the core of Gandhi's spiritual and ethical doctrine in the context of current global conflicts.

If you've not read any Mark Kurlansky, you should: he's the author of many books including The Basque History of the World, The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, Cod: a Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, and the very, very good Nonviolence: 25 Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea.

I find that the most moral people are atheists (I consider myself agnostic - which may cause some people to accuse me of hedging my bets, but really I'm just a Libra). How do you be moral, good and do the right thing(s) when there isn't anyone OUT THERE to tell what is moral, good and right? When really you only have yourself to listen to.

Dedicated as few men have been to the life of reason, Bertrand Russell has always been concerned with the basic questions to which religion also addresses itself -- questions about man's place in the universe and the nature of the good life, questions that involve life after death, morality, freedom, education, and sexual ethics. He brings to his treatment of these questions the same courage, scrupulous logic, and lofty wisdom for which his other work as philosopher, writer, and teacher has been famous. These qualities make the essays included in this book perhaps the most graceful and moving presentation of the freethinker's position since the days of Hume and Voltaire.

"I am as firmly convinced that religions do harm as I am that they are untrue," Russell declares in his Preface, and his reasoned opposition to any system or dogma which he feels may shackle man's mind runs through all the essays in this book, whether they were written as early as 1899 or as late as 1954.

The book has been edited, with Lord Russell's full approval and cooperation, by Professor Paul Edwards of the Philosophy Department of New York University. In an Appendix, Professor Edwards contributes a full account of the highly controversial "Bertrand Russell Case" of 1940, in which Russell was judicially declared "unfit" to teach philosophy at the College of the City of New York.

Whether the reader shares or rejects Bertrand Russell's views, he will find this book an invigorating challenge to set notions, a masterly statement of a philosophical position, and a pure joy to read.

Thomas Merton was not born in Kentucky, but he spent much of life here at the Abbey at Gethsemane (blessed are the cheesemakers) and as such he's become rather important to me (mostly because his books are very much sought after here at the library), but also because of his interaction with my other guru Thich Nhat Hanh.

In this classic text, Thomas Merton offers valuable guidance for prayer. He brings together a wealth of meditative and mystical influences–from John of the Cross to Eastern desert monasticism–to create a spiritual path for today. Most important, he shows how the peace contacted through meditation should not be sought in order to evade the problems of contemporary life, but can instead be directed back out into the world to affect positive change.

Contemplative Prayer is one of the most well-known works of spirituality of the last one hundred years, and it is a must-read for all seeking to live a life of purpose in today’s world.

In a moving and profound introduction, Thich Nhat Hanh offers his personal recollections of Merton and compares the contemplative traditions of East and West.

I was wondering around the library yesterday with Contemplative Prayer and Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian, saying, "I'm conflicted."

I first learned of Henri Nouwen one day while straightening the stacks in the religion section, and I came across our hardback copy of The Wounded Healer. It was lovely purple and red in a very 60s design, and Nouwen was so cute on the back in his author photo. On further research, I learned that though Nouwen was not openly gay during his young life - I don't think he ever had a lover - but in his biography, he comes out. And was his struggle between his inner life and life put on him by the Church that led to most of his thought.

The Wounded Healer is a hope-filled and profoundly simple book that speaks directly to those men and women who want to be of service in their church or community, but have found the traditional ways often threatening and ineffective. In this book, Henri Nouwen combines creative case studies of ministry with stories from diverse cultures and religious traditions in preparing a new model for ministry. Weaving keen cultural analysis with his psychological and religious insights, Nouwen has come up with a balanced and creative theology of service that begins with the realization of fundamental woundedness in human nature. Emphasizing that which is in humanity common to both minister and believer, this woundedness can serve as a source of strength and healing when counseling others. Nouwen proceeds to develop his approach to ministry with an analysis of sufferings -- a suffering world, a suffering generation, a suffering person, and a suffering minister. It is his contention that ministers are called to recognize the sufferings of their time in their own hearts and make that recognition the starting point of their service. For Nouwen, ministers must be willing to go beyond their professional role and leave themselves open as fellow human beings with the same wounds and suffering -- in the image of Christ. In other words, we heal from our own wounds. Filled with examples from everyday experience, The Wounded Healer is a thoughtful and insightful guide that will be welcomed by anyone engaged in the service of others.

Thich Nhat Hahn is probably my go-to person for Buddhism. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr., so he must be doing something for being as old as he must be, yet to look as young as he does. :)

In the rush of modern life, we tend to lose touch with the peace that is available in each moment. World-renowned Zen master, spiritual leader, and author Thich Nhat Hanh shows us how to make positive use of the very situations that usually pressure and antagonize us. For him a ringing telephone can be a signal to call us back to our true selves. Dirty dishes, red lights, and traffic jams are spiritual friends on the path to "mindfulness"—the process of keeping our consciousness alive to our present experience and reality. The most profound satisfactions, the deepest feelings of joy and completeness lie as close at hand as our next aware breath and the smile we can form right now.

Lucidly and beautifully written, Peace Is Every Step contains commentaries and meditations, personal anecdotes and stories from Nhat Hanh's experiences as a peace activist, teacher, and community leader. It begins where the reader already is—in the kitchen, office, driving a car, walking a part—and shows how deep meditative presence is available now. Nhat Hanh provides exercises to increase our awareness of our own body and mind through conscious breathing, which can bring immediate joy and peace. Nhat Hanh also shows how to be aware of relationships with others and of the world around us, its beauty and also its pollution and injustices. the deceptively simple practices of Peace Is Every Step encourage the reader to work for peace in the world as he or she continues to work on sustaining inner peace by turning the "mindless" into the mindful.

PS Pema Chödrön is another Buddhist go-to person as well.

Okay, while I find most atheists really, really moral, I also find them to be just as pigheaded as most fundamentalist Christians. And for some reason, I add Christopher Hitchens to this list...though I have no idea why: I like reading him...maybe he just looks surly.

From the #1 New York Times best-selling author of God Is Not Great, a provocative and entertaining guided tour of atheist and agnostic thought through the ages - with never-before-published pieces by Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Christopher Hitchens continues to make the case for a splendidly godless universe in this first-ever gathering of the influential voices - past and present - that have shaped his side of the current (and raging) God/no-god debate. With Hitchens as your erudite and witty guide, you’ll be led through a wealth of philosophy, literature, and scientific inquiry, including generous portions of the words of Lucretius, Benedict de Spinoza, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Mark Twain, George Eliot, Bertrand Russell, Emma Goldman, H. L. Mencken, Albert Einstein, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and many others well-known and lesser known. And they’re all set in context and commented upon as only Christopher Hitchens - "political and literary journalist extraordinaire" (Los Angeles Times) - can. Atheist? Believer? Uncertain? No matter: The Portable Atheist will speak to you and engage you every step of the way.

And finally, no the voice of Violet from The Incredibles is not my spiritual guide (well then again maybe she is) but Sarah Vowell is someone that reminds to find humor in as much as possible. The introduction to her Assassination Vacation is possibly one of the funniest things I've ever read in my entire life.

Take the Cannoli is a moving and wickedly funny collection of personal stories stretching across the immense landscape of the American scene. Vowell tackles subjects such as identity, politics, religion, art, and history with a biting humor. She searches the streets of Hoboken for traces of the town's favorite son, Frank Sinatra. She goes under cover of heavy makeup in an investigation of goth culture, blasts cannonballs into a hillside on a father-daughter outing, and maps her family's haunted history on a road trip down the Trail of Tears. Vowell has an irresistible voice — caustic and sympathetic, insightful and double-edged — that has attracted a loyal following for her magazine writing and radio monologues on This American Life.