Mary: February 2008 Archives

Cuteness off the scale


Snow Buddies. That's right--Snow Buddies. That's what it's come to. I've given up on adult titles after subjecting my mother to Mulholland Dr. last night. I hated it too. I suppose the critics loved it (who ARE these people?) but it's just hubris for a film maker to come up with a story that makes no sense, throw in some lesbian sex, and expect us to love it. Bah. Chic Hollywood hip crap. I HATE stories that make no sense.

So, after Snow Buddies we watched Miracle Dogs. My mother cried.

More about Movies


My mother and I watched Manhattan last night, and it occured to me that if writing, directing, and acting in a movie makes it a vanity piece, then just about every movie Woody Allen has made has been a vanity piece. If an actor wants to do more than act, wants to create something original, or to take on a theme the major studios won't buy, does that make it a vanity piece? I did a bit of googling and was happy to find this snip of a review of Maze from the New York Observer: "...The best kind of independent filmmaking to shame the somnolent mainstream...." Thank you very much. So it's "independent filmmaking" not a "vanity piece". What distinguishes the one from the other?

Off topic--
I've had this blog for about 4 and a half years and have only once written about a dream. Mike is the only person whose dreams I like to hear about; I find it annoying and tedious when anyone else starts in with "I had the craziest dream last night..." But I want to record a dream I had in the wee hours of the morning because I don't want to forget it, and there's nowhere else I record dreams since I stopped keeping a pen-and-paper journal. There were fairies in my dream last night. Fairies. Five of them. They were about 10 inches high and had wings, but they didn't look misty or ethereal as they do in fantasy art; they were solid. They wore clothing that was highly decorative but neither wispy nor sheer. It was fairly form-fitting but not tight or revealing; you wouldn't want sleeves or what-have-you flapping around as you flew, would you? The leader was a female with short hair, and she spoke to me. She said "You are the one. Do what it takes." I have no idea what that means. I had a semi-lucid moment in which I thought "Oh my god, fairies! Now I know they really exist."

The fairy moment was embedded in a dream in which my late husband and I were trying to install water pipes in the ceiling of an apartment so we could cultivate a garden or something. Neither of us had a clue as to how to proceed. Typical. He was being his usual self-absorbed, difficult self. No sentimentality taints my memory of him in my dreams.



I’m still staying with my mother in Prescott, Arizona. Yesterday I went to a combination bookstore/video-rental place where my brother and I rent DVDs whenever either of us is here. It’s a big place, about half books, half DVDs. I’d guess they have tens of thousands of DVDs for rent, just one copy of most of the titles, stacked on shelves like books in a library. Whenever I go in there my mind goes blank. I spent more than an hour reading titles yesterday, finally choosing four movies I hadn’t seen, not having much hope for any of them.

The first one I watched was Maze, which I chose because it stars Rob Morrow. I didn’t expect much from it—the only thing I’d read about it was a bit of Hollywood snark that labeled it a “vanity piece” because Morrow also co-wrote and co-directed it. It’s about an artist, Lyle Maze, who has learned to cope with a nearly-intolerable case of Tourette Syndrome and an associated obsessive compulsive disorder. Maze is neither helpless nor self-pitying—he’s professionally successful and respected. He has a couple of friends, but he’s written off the possibility of a relationship.

Rob Morrow nailed the role. I’m trying to be objective here—I like him—but I’ve seen a lot of the stuff he’s done and this is the best. You can tell he’s studied TS, and he doesn’t hold back when acting out the symptoms. Some scenes are hard to watch—particularly when he’s stressed, when walking down the street or making a phone call can be a nearly impossible task. The emotional effect is slightly mitigated by the knowledge that he chooses, on a day-to-day basis, to live with his symptoms rather than take medication that he fears will dull his mind and his art.

The movie has brought back some painful childhood memories that I haven’t thought about for decades. It’s something I never talk about--something long buried and forgotten: I had a tic disorder as a child. Tourette’s is on one extreme end of a spectrum of tic disorders; mine was closer to the other end, involving facial tics without any vocalization, but it was bad enough. My parents knew nothing of tic disorders or TS or any of the rest of it—they simply called it “nervous twitching.” Like Maze’s father, mine hated it and believed I could stop if I really tried. It would have been bad enough had I been a boy, but a girl! My father told me no boys would ever want to date me if I didn’t stop twitching. I “outgrew” it, although it would be more accurate to say that sometime during college I became able to control it. According to the Wikipedia article this is typical.

In both of the math departments in which I studied—undergraduate and graduate—there were professors who “twitched,” and I now believe mathematicians are prone to this and a mixed bag of other disorders. Based on my own experience, one doesn’t decide to become a mathematician: one is born with a mind that plays with numbers as toys during hours of boredom spent sitting in a first-grade classroom. Such a mind can be Rube Goldbergian and doesn’t come with an owner’s manual. In first and second grade I discovered simple rules of number theory and devised proofs. The rules were correct, the proofs valid. It was simple stuff, but I had only addition and subtraction to work with.

That was a digression—sorry. Obviously TS doesn’t only afflict mathematicians. I see from the Wikipedia article that many “notable individuals” in all walks of life have had it. Wikipedia says TS is inherited, but no one else in my family has ever had a tic disorder and my son never had one, so I dunno. Anyway, the movie is worth seeing.

Eisenhower Ave. metro station--10 am


Looking south along the tracks.

I was there yesterday morning, sheltered from a cold drizzle, waiting for a train to Reagan National Airport. At the last minute I'd put my camera in my carry-on bag, and I pulled it out to take this picture. I'm not much of a photographer, but I like the way the tracks curve at the very end and I like the smoke stack in the distance.

I'm at my mother's house in Arizona. She had hip replacement surgery a month ago and I've come to stay with her for a while, more to convince myself she'll be okay than to be of any real help. We can't do much of anything while I'm here--she's a prisoner of medicare, under house arrest. Medicare is paying for some home physical therapy, and they'll stop it if they think she can get around well enough to do out-patient rather than home care. According to the rules, she can go two places: church and the beauty parlor. It's nice to know Medicare has its priorities straight. So I'm going to take her to get her hair done, and I'm trying to talk her into getting a rinse, which I think will be fun and will cheer her greatly.

I suggested that if I take her to the beauty parlor we could go out to lunch, but she won't risk it. I said "Who would know?" and she said "There are probably eyes and ears everywhere here." You've gotta hand it to an 85-year-old woman with a walker for being savvy enough to fear medicare spies under this administration. After all, 9-11 changed everything.

More Light


Just a nice clip for a cold winter night:

That old saw


I mailed an absentee ballot yesterday. I requested it because I thought I might be out of town on Tuesday. I can't remember when I've had so much trouble deciding whom to vote for. My first choice was Bill Richardson, but knowing he was a long shot, I was supporting Clinton. I liked Edwards but didn't feel as drawn to him this time around. I was moved by Obama's speeches--almost to tears--but I wanted someone with more experience.

There's an old saw about a man who can't decide between two women, so his friend writes their names on slips of paper, folds them, and puts them in a hat. The man pulls a slip of paper out of the hat, but before he has a chance to open it his friend stops him. The friend says: right now, you're hoping it will be one name instead of the other. That's the one you should marry. And I thought, if I were to put Clinton and Obama in a hat, which name would I hope to pull out? And I voted for Obama.

More about the guys at work


Yesterday we had a goodbye luncheon for a guy who's transferring to another division. He's a retired navy captain and I like him; he's one of the few who really fits the description "an officer and a gentleman." I know nothing of his politics, for which I'm grateful. Unfortunately I wasn't seated at his table at the luncheon: I arrived early and my table was full before he got there. I didn't know the guy sitting on my left--he wasn't from our division, but when a guy sat down on my right, I groaned.

It was the guy with the big poster of Reagan hanging in his office. The guy with the "Surrender Bunnies" humor on his door. The topic came up of the tax rebate checks we're supposedly going to get in the mail. People began to joke about how they'd spend their windfall, when the guy on my right, staying true to form, complained in a tone of outrage that illegal immigrants were going to get checks too, and furthermore, some illegal immigrants would end up getting more than wounded veterans.

The guy is an injustice junkie; he's addicted to his outrage. He's like little Johnny, who's been good all day and is happy when mommy buys him an ice cream cone, until he finds out she bought Jimmy one too, and Jimmy didn't pick up his room. Suddenly his ice cream doesn't taste good anymore. What's behind this mentality? It's not as though he'd get two ice cream cones if Jimmy didn't get one. Mommy didn't take the money for Jimmy's ice cream cone out of his piggy bank. He just wants something that Jimmy doesn't have. He thinks he's better than Jimmy and he wants the reward he believes he's due.

If anyone should be angry, I should be angry, because I probably won't get a check--they're going to be "phased out" at a salary below mine. I pay a ton of taxes. Now that Mike is 22 I can't claim him as a dependent anymore, so I'm taxed as a single person. Law school tuition isn't tax deductible. I've had to pay the "Alternative Minimum Tax" for the last two years; the tax that was never intended for people like me. I pay through the nose; the government bleeds me dry. Moreover, the balance in my IRA is smaller now than it was when Bush took office in 2000. Do you see me being angry? No. Because I have so much more than so many people on the planet. And because the planet is my neighborhood and I believe that keeping up the neighborhood is important to my own wellbeing.

Flip side of the coin


In which the Department of Defense is said to be doing a Very Good Thing, even by my liberal standards.

The last two entries have painted too harsh a picture of my job. So although I'm excessively paranoid about writing about my work, I've decided to write a bit about the conference I went to last week, the one at which I doodled and dozed and longed for a Gameboy. The conference was an annual thing, attended by researchers who work on a program supported by the DoD, and it's a program I'm all for. In fact, I wish a lot more money were being spent on it.

Given that we will continue to have a military for the foreseeable future, and given that the military will continue to have weapons, the DoD wants to replace the toxic, sensitive explosives it uses in its weapons, which predate World War II. Replacements are yet to be invented, which is why scientists from many universities and government laboratories were at the conference. Computer modeling is being used in addition to experimentation, which is why I was there: I'm kind of like a consultant on computer modeling for a guy in the DoD. I slept through the chemists, pretty much.

When talking about explosives, the term "sensitive" means they can be set off accidentally. The search is on for explosives that won't go off unless deliberately detonated. Such a weapon could be shot with a bullet, burned with a blowtorch, or dropped from a forty-story building, and it wouldn't go off. Of course the DoD wants these new explosives to provide more bang for the buck, but happily, the replacements are required to be nontoxic, and to decompose into environmentally safe byproducts. Yes, that's our government, our department of defense, talking about "green" munitions. They actually use that word, without apology.

It's not safe to conclude that someone in the very highest echelons of the DoD is an environmentalist. It's more likely that they've come to grips with the cost of storage, disposal, and cleanup of stuff like TNT. Forget what it says in the Wikipedia article about sensitivity: TNT fails all of the new tests for Insensitive Munitions. Scroll down, though, to see just how toxic it is. The article also mentions RDX, another substance the DoD is hoping to replace because of its toxicity.

This research is in the early stages, and by DoD standards the program is small. But there you have it.

Identifying with the fish


In my current job, which I've had since 2004, I work for a small division of a large company. My division does contract work of an advisory nature for a branch of the department of defense, and consequently, is peopled almost entirely by retired military guys. As the Chief Scientist (haha I misspelled that--hooray for spell checking) of the division, I'm the only senior member who doesn't go to Walter Reed for checkups. I suffer culture shock every day; I'm a fish out of water--I'm Joel Fleischman in Cicely.

The uniformity of opinion among the guys I work with is amazing. They're right-wing, pro-war, and pro-Bush. They'd like to see us nuke Iran and turn the desert sand into glass. They'd like to see us turn Iraq into one big parking lot and put a Walmart in the middle of it.

Most of the guys I work with are pretty nice if you stay away from politics. I've learned to avoid discussions of anything political--I've been ganged up on too many times. These guys hate a whole lot of folks: lawyers, illegal immigrants, tree-huggers, PETA, defenders of the rights of any minority whatsoever; don't even get me started on gays and lesbians. These guys hate liberals of any stripe. They hate all government handouts with the notable exception of their own military benefits: pensions and medical care for life.

Until a few months ago, the guy with whom I work most closely, a retired Marine Corps Colonel, included me on an email distribution list which he regularly bombards with the most outrageous right-wing crap to be found anywhere. He forwards screeds that circulate on a military email list, and the love of war is a frightening thing to witness. The hatred of so much else; it's like being smacked in the face with the cold ugly of ignorance again and again. I'd asked him repeatedly to take my name off his list. He finally did so after sending me a screed titled What A Wake-up Call!!!! filled with LARGE FONT and COLOR and ITALICS and exclamation points!!!!! that enumerated all the children who have been killed in school shootings since Columbine, and then it claimed, in all seriousness, that GOD COULDN'T SAVE THESE CHILDREN BECAUSE GOD ISN'T ALLOWED IN SCHOOLS!!!!!

Something about my response, measured as it was, finally convinced him that I really, really, didn't want to find any more of this crap in my inbox.

Now, though, I fear I may have opened myself up to more of the same, because this past week I just couldn't help myself--I just couldn't hold back any longer. I sent him a link to this post on Creek Running North. Is there any point, I wonder? No, not really.

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