Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Viewing my life through the funhouse mirror


Corporations attempting to appeal to women would be much more successful if they weren't so creepy and patronizing about it.

Here's a hilarious post about a Proctor & Gamble coupon book presumably targeting stay-at-home moms. My faves: The page where diapers and female products are displayed together and the picture of the woman feeding her man his dinner by hand.

This reminds me of a post I wrote long long ago about an issue of Ladies' Home Journal, which portrayed women as crazed insomniacs cooking artichoke hearts and fretting over nuclear winter when they weren't trying on culottes and putting salicylic acid on their face.

Not to mention a column about Franklin Covey organizers who assume if you're a man, you build infrastructure and buy swim goggles and if you're a woman, you make manicure appointments and plan the Collins' anniversary party.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Swinging with the Pendulum


I'm a little burned out on reading history right now, so I've selected a baffling novel called "Foucault's Pendulum" by Umberto Eco. It was an international bestseller in its day, which means that people all over the world bought the book and pretended they knew what the hell it was about. "Endlessly diverting ... intricate and absorbing," Time magazine called it, but then they probably had fact checkers to help figure out the hundreds of obscure references packed into every page.

It's been a long time since I've read a book where I didn't know every other word, which means A. I'm brilliant or B. I've been lazy bum who reads too much Philippa Gregory. I suspect the second. Since FP is supposed to be a thriller, and it promises a fair amount of mayhem, I'm going to take it on.

But since I don't have a scholar versed in philosophy and religion in my pocket (or even in my life, which might be a good thing), I have to go it alone with the help of Google. So far this morning I've learned the definition of sublunar (earthly), chthonian (relating to the underworld), chelae (claws), archons (evil forces) and much more. And I'm only to page seven. I had to look up the first word in the book "Kester," meaning crown in Hebrew.

(One of the things, I've learned, by the way, is to use dictionary.com, NOT thefreedictionary.com. The second site is totally wretched, with skimpy definitions and appalling ads. When I'm trying to improve my mind, the last thing I need are gross pictures of yellow teeth to advertise whiteners, or cartoon women squeezing their stomach fat. Please Lord, bring back the dancing mortgage people!)

Ahem! Back to FP ( no, I am not typing Foucalult's Pendulum over and over). I'm not sure why I'm reading this book, which I picked up at a preschool yard sale for $3.50 two years ago and have been trying to ignore ever since. It looks intriguing, I guess, and I know very little about theology and philosophy and the Knights Templar. One could argue this is a good thing and I'm just taking a short route to a permanent headache, and that's probably true. But it's a challenge, and I'm always one for challenges that have no physical risk or practical use whatsoever.

Plus, those first few pages have been kind of neat. He's got a nice turn for imagery, this guy. His description of the swinging pendulum in a Paris museum of machines and inventions was striking. "Here the pendulum is flanked by the nightmare of a deranged entomologist," he writes, comparing the skeletons of early airplanes, bicycles, autos and other machines to mechanical insects. The museum itself, the Conservatoire National des Arts et M├ętiers or Museum of Arts and Crafts, is housed in an ancient priory, Saint Martin Des Champs, and seems to foreshadow the violent conflict between art, science and philosophy.

I don't plan to blog exhaustively about this little project (really - you can relax now), but I might mention it once in a while. I leave you today with a neat quote I found while searching for the definition of simulacra:

What we want is not freedom but its appearances. It is for these simulacra that man has always striven. And since freedom, as has been said, is no more than a sensation, what difference is there between being free and believing ourselves free?


E.M. Cioran (b. 1911), Rumanian–born-French philosopher. "Strangled Thoughts," sct. 3, The New Gods (1969, trans. 1974).

(Oh, and by the way, the Pendulum is no longer at Saint Martin Des Champs. It's in the Pantheon now. )

Friday, April 15, 2011

Well, that's done


You find me today on the field of victory, fresh from completing my National Novel Writing Month novel.

NaNoWriMo, as participants call it, issues a challenge each November to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. In 2002, I wrote a science fiction novel titled "Killer Robots Never Work." In 2003, I wrote a novel that borrowed heavily from Greek Mythology called "Escaping Olympus." Then I took a few years off, returning to start a goofball murder mystery based on the Da Vinci Code called "The Fred Code." I made it to 14,000 words before giving up.

Now I have another completed NaNo novel, this one so sappy and shamelessly derivative that I'm too embarrassed to tell you the title. I call it the Stealth Novel. The only person who gets to read it is Benny, who provided many of the plot twists and the bright idea to set the climatic final scene in a swamp. Every few days he asks me to bring it out and read it to him and I oblige, skipping over any scenes I deem too violent, sexy or laced with profanity. (Sometimes I have to skip entire chapters.)

My favorite scene in the novel is when my bad guy spontaneously combusts. Well, it wasn't spontaneous, really — I mean, the Really Bad Gal intended it to happen, but she hoped he'd end up as a charred corpse. Instead, she got carried away and he ended up as a pile of ashes, which really ticked her off.

Anyway, the paragraph above should make it clear why Stealth Novel will never be sent out to publishers. But I consider it a great achievement anyway, I mean, writing 50,000 words is always worth a pat on the back, as long as it isn't the same word repeated 50,000 times.

Now, you more astute readers will be thinking, "Hmmm, write a novel in the month of November, eh? But it's ... April."

Well spotted. Yes it is April, which means it took me five and a half months to write the thing. I was at about 25,000 words when Ron's father passed away, and I did not hesitate to put Stealth Novel on the shelf, with an earnest promise to myself I would finish it later.

But there is no harder goal to achieve than a goal without a deadline, and it was so easy to shove the novel aside whenever I was hungry, tired, stressed or simply anxious to get to the next level of "Metal Gear Solid." (I'm fighting some villain in Prague with a rocket launcher now.)

But as Tolkien once said about another fantasy novel that also has a swamp, "I felt that the story could not be wholly abandoned." Except in my case it wasn't because I was producing a classic loved by millions of readers, but because I had made that promise in November. And I, for one, am sick of breaking writing promises to myself. I've got a file drawer and computer hard drive stuffed with unfinished works: plays, stories, memoirs. I couldn't bear the prospect of having yet another half-finished draft cluttering my mind.

So now that I've finished my Stealth Novel and crossed one more item off my To Do list, I'm turning to my next unfinished project: a memoir about our move to San Francisco in 2007 as the housing crisis and recession hit. And yes, I will finish it. And no, I won't set the ending in a swamp.