Saturday, January 31, 2009

WC: A Sea of CDs

I don't mean the CDs that have money in them. I mean those old-fashioned, round, shiny things that some of us middle-aged people still use rather than iPods. (It was only two minutes ago that CDs were the miraculous future of recorded music, but the future comes and goes quickly these days.)

Since I own hundreds of CDs (to be honest, I'm not sure how it happened), I decided that it would be interesting to actually listen to them. All of them. Not just the ones that are on frequent rotation. I considered listening to them in alphabetical order, or by category, or chronologically, but I decided that random order suits me best.

As it happened, the first CD was Kristin Chenoweth's Let Yourself Go, which includes a range of show songs and standards, along with an art song or two. Chenoweth's timing was excellent: she recorded the CD just as she was supposed to become a TV star with her sitcom Kristin. I assume that is why she got to sing with a band rather than the single piano that so many Broadway performers have to settle for. Kirstin turned out to be a flop the size of which hadn't been seen since, well, Nathan Lane's sitcom, but the CD was already made.

And a lovely CD it is. It largely shows Kristin at her best, relying on the extraordinary beauty of her voice with subtle phrasing, as opposed to Kristin at her worst, when she flounces around demanding, "Love me, love me!" I think that she is prodigiously talented but not always good. In this CD, however, she is wonderful. Her My Funny Valentine is the best I've ever heard, with a simple declarative style that allows the one little catch in her voice late in the song to express a world of emotion.

WC: My First Theatre Review in Years

I have just joined a blog called Show Showdown. For a couple of years, the Show Showdown-ers have been posting short reviews of plays and competing to see the most shows in a year. They recently opened the blog up to more contributors, and I am one of three newbies. I'm unlikely to win the competition, as I "only" see about 60 shows a year (the others see dozens, hundreds), but I'm very pleased to be involved. (When I lived in San Diego, I was a theatre critic for a while.)

Amusingly enough, I immediately succumbed to a theatre buzz word. My friends and I often laugh when actors are interviewed, because we know that they will use the words "arc" and "journey." It could be a drinking game, with a double shot when a performer uses both words in the same sentence.

So, yes, I used the word "arc." In my very first review. It was the right word. Oh well.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

SS: Queen Meabh in the Flesh!

When I saw the cover of The New York Times magazine this morning, I was rather non-plussed. "OBAMA's PEOPLE" shouted the headline at me, with the subhead indicating a series of photographs of all the people who are working or going to be working with our soon-to-be president. While I'm thrilled that the Bush era is over and we are going to have a president who might actually help our country rather than push it further into social, economic and educational oblivion, I really didn't care about seeing a bunch of photos of Washington politicos.

I grew up in the DC metro area, and since I fled for New York in 1999, I have sort of knee-jerk gut retch whenever I think about my hometown. I have "issues" with DC -- it was just not my kind of town -- a severe lack of diversity among class, race, ethnicity and occupation, an unhealthy obsession with educational status, too much middle-of-the-road, "I don't want to say anything radical"-type political views, very little to do after 5pm except for bars, and my number-one complaint: Too few dating options for straight gals such as myself.

So I opened up the magazine, expecting to see page after page of wonks -- yes, "the wonks of hope" for this is to be the administration of hope -- but still wonks. Wonks are not generally thrilling photography subjects.

I was not disappointed. Aside from the opening shot of Rahm Emanuel doing his best arms-akimbo Henry VIII pose -- it was wonk after wonk.

And then I saw her. I'm not a New Age/Pagan kind of person, but the first thing that came to my mind was that this was a living reincarnation of Queen Meabh (Maeve), the mythical Irish Queen and goddess. Not because this woman had long red hair, green eyes and wore a Celtic pendent on a chain around her neck -- but because she radiated the kind of brilliance, confidence, and an interesting sense of...sovereignty is sort of the word...that are qualities very often attributed to Meabh. In her goddess form, Meabh was thought to imbue new kings with power - ancient Irish kings performed a symbolic marriage with her when they came to their thrones. Honestly -- this is what popped into my head the moment I saw her.

It was a photo of Samantha Power, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her writings about genocide and has consistently been one of the most passionate, articulate and influential advocates against genocide this generation has likely ever known. She is one of my heroines (yes, even with the "monster" debacle) and before I saw this picture, I never really "saw" her. This photo just really brought the essence of her out, and it is beautiful. This woman is beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Click here for the link to the online gallery featuring the photo of Samantha Power.

Monday, January 12, 2009

WC: Who Steals My Purse Steals Trash, But Who Steals My Identity Really Pisses Me Off

I got one of those robo-calls from my charge card yesterday. It sounded different from the others--maybe even authentically important--but I totally forgot about it.

Then today, I went on line to check my credit card balance and discovered that I had purchased three Delta flights to Atlanta. Except I hadn't.

So I called the 800 number on my charge card. I was eventually connected to a nice man with an Indian accent (duh) who kept trying to convince me that these were disputed charges rather than fraud. He wanted me to call Delta and ask why they had made these charges. I kept telling him that that was irrelevant, and he kept insisting. I finally thought to mention the phone call of yesterday, and he pressed some buttons and suddenly discovered that I had indeed been the victim of fraud.

So he transferred me to the fraud department where I spoke to a nice woman named Velma. (I hadn't known that Velma was an Indian name.) She was so used to taking fraud reports that she spoke at 1000 words a minute. With a thick Indian accent. I teach seminars on dealing with identity theft, and I couldn't tell what the heck she was talking about.

After asking her to repeat herself and slow down--about half a dozen times--we got the fraud report submitted. Then she started reading me instructions on what to do next. She read so fast that she sounded like that super-fast talker in the Fed Exp commercials. Only with a thick Indian accent.

I had already spent half an hour dealing with this, and I had just begun. I don't know what people who work on assembly lines do when their identities get stolen. I wouldn't be surprised if they have to take off from work just to make phone calls.

Next I went on line to the credit services. I started with Experian, which allows you to put a fraud alert on your credit report via the Net. So I filled out the form and pressed submit, and it told me that my address was missing. It wasn't. I put it in again and hit submit. It told me that my address was missing. It wasn't. I put it in again, with no commas or number sign and hit submit. It told me my address was missing.

I called Experian and got their automatic telephone fraud report machine. This worked pretty well except that the telephone voice rattled out my many-digit confirmation number out so fast that I thought it was competing with Velma. And it rattled it out once. Only once.

Then I decided to put in another report. Officially, once you've submitted a report to any of the three agencies, it has to share the report with the other two. But I don't trust other people/companies with something that is that important to me--and anyway, their website didn't inspire me with confidence--so I decided to submit a report to TransUnion.

I went on its website and found the fraud report form. (By the way, it wasn't particularly easy to find the form on either agency site.) I filled it out, pressed submit, and got a page full of code and error messages. Very reassuring, huh? At least when I called TransUnion, its machine voice said my confirmation number slowly and asked me if I wanted it to repeat it. I did.

I decided to then focus on informing companies that automatically bill my charge card that the account had been closed. Guess what? It was really hard to figure out how to get the info to some of them. Big surprise, huh?

At this point, my lunch hour was up and I was facing multiple deadlines, so I left the rest to deal with tonight. And now I'm going to do just that, feeling incredibly grateful that I have a computer at home, that I am literate, that I understand finance, that I can make phone calls from work--and feeling incredibly worried about people who are not as lucky as I am.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

SS: This May Explain Some of My Quirks

My mother and father have two main hobbies each. My mother is a doll collector and my father loves tinkering with antique phone gear. I grew up in a house filled with 100-plus phones, most of which operated through a 40s-era switchboard my father purchased from a funeral home when I was 12 years old. My mother, for her part, had many more dolls than me when I was a kid. I think that may be why I have no maternal instinct, but that is another story. Recently, she's really stepped it up -- acquiring around 25 in the past year alone.

I suppose it was only a matter of time for my parents' twin obsessions to intertwine, and look! Here we have it. Yes. My father sent me this picture this morning. It is a picture of a doll on a switchboard. He tagged it, "In these troubled times, I need all the help I can get!"

WW: Obama's Inauguration

When Obama invited Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration, my first response was disappointment. My second response was to tell myself, hey, he's reaching out to other people, which he said he would do, and he tends to know what he's doing. I was still uneasy, so I read editorials and spoke to friends to see if there was anything I hadn't considered that I needed to consider.

There were and are a million opinions out there. For example, Frank Rich of the New York Times, who thought it was a bad decision, wrote,
[Warren] was vociferously attacked by the Phyllis Schlafly gang when he invited Obama to speak about AIDS at his Saddleback Church two years ago.

There’s no reason why Obama shouldn’t return the favor by inviting him to Washington. But there’s a difference between including Warren among the cacophony of voices weighing in on policy and anointing him as the inaugural’s de facto pope. You can’t blame V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and an early Obama booster, for feeling as if he’d been slapped in the face. “I’m all for Rick Warren being at the table,” he told The Times, but “we’re talking about putting someone up front and center at what will be the most-watched inauguration in history, and asking his blessing on the nation. And the God that he’s praying to is not the God that I know.”

On the other hand, E.J. Dionne Jr. of The Washington Post, wrote,

Although I support gay marriage, I think that liberals should welcome Obama's success in causing so much consternation on the right. On balance, inviting Warren opens more doors than it closes.

During my research, I found that I agreed with much of what people wrote and said, both pro and con.

Then I discussed the situation with my friend Rodney and some other friends. We discussed it as a disappointment, and we discussed it as a sort-of-acceptable political move, and we discussed how Obama seems to know what he's doing, and then Rodney said, "But it's not my inaugural anymore."

And that sentence hit me like a ton of bricks. In all my thinking about this decision, I had ignored what I had been feeling. And Rodney hit it on the nose. I was really, truly upset. And I am really, truly upset.

Rodney also mentioned that he had replied to a request for a donation from Obama's people with a, uh, somewhat pointed response that they shouldn't approach him anymore. I copied his idea, but I didn't tell them to stop contacting me. Instead, any time they approach me, I write about my disappointment and how, after giving hundreds of dollars, I have no interest in giving any more money. I end with the line, "I wish Obama supported me as much as I supported him."

Now I'm trying to figure out (1) how to let my disappointment go, and (2) whether to let it go.

I was so excited when Obama won. I was flat-out thrilled. Of course, I understood that he wouldn't be able to be too overtly pro-gay right off the bat. And I knew that he would inevitably disappoint me--and everyone else too! But I didn't expect this symbolic slap in the face, so soon. If that is what this is.

After all this thinking, I've decided to hold off deciding what I think and to see what the future brings. I'm still disappointed, but I have decided to be cautiously optimistic.

Here's hoping!

Monday, January 5, 2009

SS: When Did My Neighborhood Become The Heart of Darkness?

I have to stop reading “The City” section of “The New York Times.” It seems as though every other week there’s another article about my Queens neighborhood, Jackson Heights, and more times than not, after reading the piece, I want to crumple the entire section into a jagged little ball and shove it down the writer’s throat, hard. This is because few writings about Jackson Heights are anything more than dime-store travelogues, which treat my neighborhood as though it’s some ethnic zoo, to be visited and thrilled at and then, if the tigers and polar bears don’t feel like eating the crackers you throw over the fence at them – dismissed, one way or the other. It’s insulting.

I opened up “The City” section yesterday morning to a typical example. The teaser above the piece read, “He hoped to find in Queens the exoticism he loved from his years abroad. But again and again, the doors to this world slammed shut.” I could tell this was going to be a good one, so I read on.

The writer describes moving to Jackson Heights in 2006 in an effort to discover the “discreet ethnic underworlds” of Queens, which he assumes will be as exciting and personally fulfilling as those “exotic environments” he left behind when he returned to the United States after living for six years in what he refers to only as “developing nations.” Presumably one of those nations is Indonesia, as he notes having lived for two years in the world’s largest Islamic country.

Unfortunately, this plan doesn’t work out for the writer, as the denizens of Jackson Heights and other immigrant-heavy Queens enclaves don’t seem to want to deliver on the exotic goodies the writer presumes are just hiding above every storefront or in a backroom of every restaurant. He details his many efforts to penetrate “the underworld” throughout the course of 18 months. He tries several times to get in the door at an unmarked Korean bar under the 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue, and his knocks always go unanswered, despite the obvious action going on inside, until, finally, he gets in the door, only to be greeted by a Korean woman who shouts, “No! Korea! Korea! Only Korea!”

There are many similar instances. He goes to a “crusty bar” where he encounters “Irishmen equipped with authentic accents and swollen red cheeks” (at least he can cross “find a drunken Irishman to add flare to NYT piece” off his to-do list), only to be made fun of when he orders root beer instead of booze. Luckily for him, one of the Irish men makes a racist remark, so he can dismiss this piece, which doesn’t fit in with his “Jackson Heights-the-ethnic-Disneyworld” narrative and move on to pester those living that more authentic Jackson Heights life, the ones located in the “vibrant South Asian communities” around 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue.

Over in the vibrant heart of Jackson Heights, while “documenting the neighborhood’s colorful streets” with his camera, the writer runs into some trouble in his attempts to capture locals striking their ethnic poses: They run away from him. He notes that he can hear several saying “snitching” and “immigration” under their breath. I have to question if this is true. I think you’d have to have superhero ears to actually be able to hear someone mumbling under their breath on a typically crowded, noisy Jackson Heights street. More likely, he asked people to pose for him, and they refused.

And I applaud them for refusing. I’d do the same thing, though I’m a white girl who was born in this country, and therefore have no appeal to writers like the one in this yesterday’s paper. I don’t fit into the Jackson Heights narrative that was clearly already in the head of this writer before he ever took his first step off the 74th Street stop of the 7 train. I just go about my business here, living with my husband, walking my dog, getting groceries, looking for parking. All the same things that millions of people across the city (maybe in Manhattan there are less looking for parking and more looking for empty seats on the subway) do every day. And these are the same things the people in my neighborhood do as well, whether they are Colombian, Pakistani, Korean, Filipino or any other ethnicity, “exotic” or not. They are people – not models posing in a diorama at the Museum of Natural History.

At the end of the piece, the writer says he moved back to Manhattan. I hope he finds what he’s looking for there, probably it's “authentic city living” or something similar. He had it in Jackson Heights, but he couldn’t see past his own narrative.

Copyright January 5, 2009 by Sarah E. Stanfield

Saturday, January 3, 2009

AV: These Boots Are Made For Walking

Aida has asked for boots. Nice handcrafted cowboy boots from the small shop in Golden Hill near The Big Kitchen. She has been talking about them a lot over the last few days.

The only problem is that she isn't doing any walking these days. In fact, I don't think that she's left the hospital bed provided by the good people of San Diego Hospice at all since Thanksgiving. Even that was difficult, although the trip to her parents' house in Oceanside to spend a few hours with the whole family was worth it. Mostly. The excursion exhausted her for two days. Since then she has only left our bedroom for Christmas, which was held at her sister's house. It was a mixed bag. Family surrounded her -- as did an unfamiliar room. She found peace again once we returned home.

The last weeks have seen a steady stream of visitors. Family, friends. Hospice workers (such wonderful people!!). And love. Such love. You can't imagine. Really.

The last few days she has announced to all who come, "I'm dying. It's so odd. But there it is. I didn't think it would happen to me, but I guess it is. Curious." She speaks clearly about the work there is to do, and yet allows sometimes for the possibility that all that is left is to "relax into it." And at others she is adamant that she isn't going anywhere, thank you, and who the heck are they talking about that is supposed to be dying. Not her. No Ma'am. Uh uh.

And the incredible thing about this journey is that at each stage I am given the inestimable gift of her company in a way that allows me to get kind of used to the idea of where we are. And maybe a little bit of where we're going. Each day frightens me to my core. I don't know what will happen. I am terrified that whatever change that may occur is the one that will shake me apart. And yet. And yet, when the terrifying changes happen, we manage it. And the conversations of the most recent days together have allowed us both to ponder. To wonder. To acknowledge the ridiculousness and craziness of it all. Because make no mistake about it, it IS most certainly crazy. Just plain wrong. But still, we are coming to understand it together.

While talking the other day, she said to me that being brave was not necessary.
"Don't be brave. Just be worthy of all of your accomplishments here."

She is marvelous, ladies and gentlemen. She is the most extraordinary human being I have ever met. Beyond all that pap about snowflakes and uniqueness, because while that is true, it is truer for Aida than for anyone else. I have never ever met anyone like her and I am pretty certain that she is the only one there is. Or ever has been. She is amazing. She is Aida.