joy

I went to Eclipse for the second time the other day with a great friend, Jocelyn. It was her first time seeing the movie. We met for lunch then smuggled cocktails into the theater for the mid-afternoon showing on a Tuesday. Don’t tell. We both loved it. She wore her homemade “Team Jacob” T-shirt and I wore my “Team Edward” one that she made for me when “New Moon” hit the theatres last year. Except for the names, the shirts are matching. Nice.

Dupont Circle fountain, Washington, D.C.

I like Eclipse best of all the movies. All of that squishy romance between Eddie and Bella really pulls at my heart-strings. Plus the way the movie is filmed seems more interesting and exciting: lots of intensely close close-ups and dramatic wide-angle shots. Wow!

This time through, I was really struck by that small scene when Bells runs away from Eddie and school to hang with Jacob at his garage in La Push. Remember? She climbs onto his motorcycle just before class was to start, leaving Edward behind in the dust. It’s just afterward that shocked me, though I’d already seen it once before and read it several times in the novels. Bella reluctantly tells J. that she intends to become a vampire herself. Jacob’s angry and shouts something like “I’d rather you be dead than become one of them.”

I couldn’t help but remembering hearing that before, in many different ways. This is the cry of someone who cannot come to terms with having a gay/lesbian/trans or otherwise sexually different loved-one. Sure, sure, I know that Bella and Edward are heterosexual. But let’s face facts, he’s a vampire and she’s a human. That’s another kind of sexuality altogether than the “conventional” model: hence, it’s not straight. But really, whose business is that anyway? The couple, that’s who. The others should simply be glad that Bella and Edward found one another, period. So they’re a little different from the ordinary, so what?

The Eclipse film got me so psyched for the wedding scene at the start of Breaking Dawn, that I started re-reading it this week, too. I’d intended only to read the first “Bella” book, but you know how it goes. The story’s so engrossing that I can’t put the thing down. Now in the middle of “Jacob” with Bells just getting better after drinking the O-negative donated blood during her pregnancy, I don’t think that it’s only J. that’s hung up about the famous “differently-sexual” couple.

Initially, Sam is ready to uphold the treaty and even accepts that Bella made an “informed choice” to become a vampire, thus paving the way for an exception to the rule. Jacob can’t handle it and goes off against Sam’s wishes, with a plan to slaughter as many “blood sucker” Cullens as possible. (That “blood sucker” term is pretty loaded, isn’t it? Sounds a lot like that other problem term, “cock sucker,” to me.)

Of course, that whole plan derails when Jacob sees Bells in all her pregnant glory. But Sam and the Pack’s reactions are pretty telling here. Prepared to let Bella go, now they’re convinced that the only solution is to kill “the abomination” to protect themselves, their families and other humans. They recognize that the mother will die, too, but hey, them’s the breaks.

If you ask me, that’s a pretty extreme reaction, based on nothing but fear of difference and the unknown. Putting it more into perspective, this is the same pack of werewolves that successfully destroyed half an army of newborn vampires a mere few months before with only one injury and no casualties. Even had Rensemee turned out to be a ferocious uncontrolled blood-sucking demon child, I think that the wolves probably could have handled it just fine when they were sure about her nature. What’s the rush? There’s no easy way back from murder.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, though it permanently severed Jacob from the Pack.

I don’t think that it’s just the hick werewolves that suffer from this myopic vision of permissible sexuality. The Cullens don’t look all that cool here, either. The idea that Edward, the father of the potential monster, immediately assumes that the only option is abortion without even consulting with Bella, and that Carlisle seems to agree speaks volumes. It’s the classic Right-to-Life versus Right-to-Choice debate in reverse: here “Life” becomes “abortion/death” to the fetus. Imagine it! Two guys chat and decide that they’re going to abort some pregnant lady’s kid without her permission. That’s way more than old fashioned; it’s messed up!

It all comes down to issues of choice, but real choices cannot occur without the power necessary to permit them. Should Bella be allowed to choose Edward? Should Edward be allowed to choose Bella? Should Bella be allowed to choose to become a vampire? Should Bella be allowed to choose Renesmee over her health? Turns out these are complex questions that preoccupy much of Breaking Dawn. I’m glad that everything works out in the end (except for poor Leah). But even if it hadn’t, it’s gratifying to believe that groups with power: werewolves, vampires, doctors, sheriffs, mothers and fathers, etc. can find ways of overcoming their personal biases, ignorance and stupidity to let those they care about take meaningful risks in an attempt to find their own paths through life.

Too bad that in the “real world” this doesn’t happen more. But alas, the Twilight Saga, Bella, Edward and Jacob aren’t real. It’s just a fairy tale… or perhaps a guide?

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Bella, Edward and Jacob looking down on we mere mortals; Eclipse starts today!!!

It’s about time!!!

We love you , Stephenie Meyer!

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She works for a champagne house, too, though I think that Mireille Guiliano's job sounds a lot more interesting

So, the first part of the title to this inspirational book is pretty clear: “women,” “work” and “art.” “Savoir faire” needs translation, at least for me. It means “the ability to say or do the right thing in any situation; tact.” Wow, I read the whole book and did not know the meaning of savoir faire until looking it up, but it was killing me the entire time. What does savoir faire mean? Just what could it mean?!? But now that I know, I’m asking myself: wouldn’t it be convenient to have the skill of saying or doing the right thing in any and all situations with perfect tact and dignity?

If you’re looking for keys to success in the working world, Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility pretty much spells it out from A-Z; all in perfect style. Mireille Guiliano has become one of my idols. I devoured French Women Don’t Get Fat and fell in love with the whole idea of living large but gracefully with gentle restraint and poise. French Women for all Seasons simply confirmed my admiration for Guiliano’s world-view. I feel so lucky that I finally got to meet her at a special San Francisco dinner when she was touring to promote the French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook a few months ago. OMG!

While reading her books I get the sense that I’m talking to a charming, very close friend and getting the best advice ever. It seems like she really cares about helping people define their style, develop their cooking, and, in Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Fair, succeed in the workplace.

One of her main ideas that really impressed me is the importance of finding a work mentor: someone who can give you tips and also allow you to model after them in their career. Mireille achieved the status of CEO of Veuve Cliquot, Inc., but she didn’t start out there. She herself had a few role models along the way which she credits with helping her tremendously. In this marvelous book, she describes her early work experiences and how her skills, confidence and comfort with success grew as she moved up in the New York City marketing world. Interestingly she was the actual voice used in a lot of radio commercials advertising the French wine she was selling. I’ve done some radio work myself so that seemed especially poignant to me. It seems that her French accent while speaking in English was an asset to her career, so she learned to make the most of it. Really, Mireille has used her background as a woman who grew up in France but working and living in the States to tremendous success. Just look at the FWDGT empire! She really is the most charming, wonderful, brilliant, lovely person that I’ve met in a while!

She’s optimistic, too. She mentions taking risks in this book to experiment and learn, but she emphasizes, “things generally work out.” It’s so true! A lot of times we work ourselves up into a frenzy or worry about risk-taking or making different decisions from the norm, but this mode of thinking leaves us always moving in the same direction… that’s not progress. Trying something new once in a while is sometimes one-step-forward-and-two-steps-back, but if we never do anything differently, how can we change our lives in the positive directions that we all hope for? Even if things don’t turn out as planned, we’ve got to give ourselves a pat on the back for at least trying something different and facing our fears down.

Everything from manners, haircuts, mental outlook, and what to eat and drink is laid out in Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire. And wouldn’t we all like to have the ability to say and do just the perfect things at any given moment with tact…especially on the job or in a career? I say anything by Mireille Guiliano is worth reading.

Keep writing Mireille!

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I just finished the new The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner moments ago.

All of you in the Internet universe have probably already read it, too, by now. I did enjoy the story. Bree sounds like a sweet enough vampire. And it’s cute that she is afraid of sunlight and develops a huge crush on her BFF, Diego. That last part seems charmingly like the relationship between Bella and Edward. Didn’t you hear Eddie’s voice when Diego says to her “Trust, Bree” when he’s trying to get her to go into the sunshine? I sure did. Maybe teenagers all sound similar? Probably not, come to think of it. Perhaps it’s a style thing?


I wasn’t super comfortable with Bree feeding on an endless supply of humans without a second thought. Meyer’s vague rationale that these vampires come from the “dregs” of society and feed on the “dregs” did not really calm my nerves. I work with lots of poor and homeless people all the time. They want to be treated with respect, like everyone else. This kind of attitude is not helpful. Really, Steph, the classism is awfully repugnant.

Nevertheless, it is sad that Bree and her friends get mixed up in Victoria’s revenge scheme. You have the sense that they have a lot of potential. ‘course, had there been no Victoria, then Riley, Bree, Fred etc. would all have remained blissfully ignorant human beings going about their regular day-to-day lives, so we’d never have learned about them anyway.

The novella was good, though not quite what I’m craving for. The Bree character is such a trivial part of the Twilight series. I’m much more curious about Leah and Renseme. Though after this latest installment, I’m also wonderfully intrigued with the mysterious vampire, Fred.

I’ve read some comments here and there, Steph, that you’re thinking of a book about Leah and/or Renseme. I really hope so! Like I’ve written before, I really think that there’s something more there. And the increasingly sinister Volturi seem to offer an exciting literary opportunity. Don’t let your readers down, Ms. Meyer!

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“…some people take drugs to chemically induce a happiness they cannot otherwise achieve; others drink to excess for the same reason. Still others throw themselves into religious frenzies in a bout of self-intoxication. All are seeking happiness. But happiness, even Heaven, is the absence of further progress. When one is happy, one wants no more than that, and will spend his life in a search to keep the brain’s pleasure center permanently on. It is the essence of humanity. We learn, we progress, by our unending quest for eternal happiness—yet should we achieve it, it all stops.”

from Soul Rider book 3: Masters of Flux and Anchor

Jack Chalker published the Soul Rider series in the mid-Eighties, a bit after the first five novels in the Well World Series but before he returned to that earlier series in the Nineties. The first three novels in Soul Rider are really one extended story in three volumes. It starts by describing the adventures of a young girl, Cassie, who grows up in a rural farming community in a place called Anchor Logh. Her planet, World, consists of twenty-eight “Anchors” all surrounded by this mysterious energy called Flux. Anchors are really like very large islands. They have conventional Earth-like properties and seem quite ordinary: filled with farms or factories; people live, work, have children and die all under the watchful gaze of the matriarchal Church in conjunction with the patriarchal local government.

these three look pretty happy to me

Flux is something quite different and generally frightening to most of these “Anchor-folk.” It’s a kind of energy field surrounding the Anchors that some people can manipulate with their minds. The strongest, called “wizards,” can create anything they wish out of Flux, including changing human bodies and even minds to completely control all those around them less adept at handling Flux.

The Soul Rider is something unknown even to itself but at the start of the first novel it is inexplicably drawn to Cassie and enters her mind as a kind of symbiot. Through various complex political machinations, Cassie along with a number of other young people are sold into slavery to Flux. The story is very intricate, with lots of schemes and counter-schemes, and like all good sci-fi, finishes with a nail-biting confrontation with the “end of the world” where all the mysteries are more or less explained. There’s even a “scientific explanation” given for magic. Meanwhile it’s quite a ride.

Cassie gets tortured, brainwashed, becomes a saint, a powerful wizard, a mother, a wife and a mindless sex slave at various times throughout the book. Her children and loved ones fare little better. Much of the author’s philosophizing is about the relationship between men and women and the human tendency to exploit one another. These people are not nice and they use their powers, magical and technological, ruthlessly. Church leaders, wizards, warlords, husbands and wives, lovers, parents and children, scientists and dreamers all backstab, manipulate or otherwise mess with each other for personal ambition or revenge. By the end, everything all sort of “works out,” but at a dreadful cost.

It’s in this context that the wizard Mervyn, one of “the Nine” whose mission is to protect World from the opening of the “Hellgates,” makes those pessimistic comments about happiness quoted above. Is it really true that happiness is merely a chemical reaction that the brain is striving to maintain at all costs? Are we all seeking that kind of happiness, and would everything really stop if we achieved it?

I’m constantly hearing people tell me that they’d be happy if they could just find that perfect girl/boyfriend, get a better job, have more money or less debt, have better health, weigh less (or, rarely, more), were younger or older, were the other sex, looked more attractive, lived somewhere else, you name it. Yet so often after achieving one of these dreams; an example for me was moving to California, which I’d been sure would make me ecstatically happy; the effect gradually wears off. I still love it here but I’m not intoxicated with delight every day. That’s always the problem with these wishes, isn’t it?

I’m not sure that I can agree with old Mervyn that drugs or drink are a way to achieve this exalted level of happiness. There is no doubt that these things affect the mood and sometimes that’s in the happiness direction. So often, though, drugs and alcohol in serious users tend to cause more problems than anything else. These sad folk end up taking more and more not to feel good but to avoid thinking and feeling bad about all their problems, including the problem of their drug dependency itself. Drugs are a dead end if you ask me.

So where does that leave us? Is happiness a mirage? Chalker’s characters in the Soul Rider series realize many of their dreams at various times but are mostly left angry and miserable as time goes by. At their best, they are at peace with compromises that they’ve made with the powerful forces around them. That’s it, though. Not “happy,” just “O.K.”

Perhaps it’s the model of “happiness” that’s the real issue. Peak happiness happens, thank goodness! It simply never lasts. Feeling good all the time sounds great on paper, but maybe it’s kinda unrealistic. Why not adjust our expectations to fit better with reality? That’s what Cassie et al. finally did on World. How marvelous to have these joyful bursts from time to time. Working toward a sense of general wellbeing, not the vanishing ecstatic extreme, is my goal. I get the idea that Chalker thought so too. If that’s true, than at least we can safely put Mervyn’s fear of the end of progress to rest. It will never stop because permanent ecstatic happiness is always out of reach. That’s not as gloomy as it sounds. Personally I enjoy things more when they’re mixed with things that are less exciting. It’s the variety that makes stuff interesting.

Reading this three volume novel made me very happy, at least for a while. The story’s disturbing but also thrilling and thought provoking. That good feeling is already fading and I only finished the third novel last night. I suppose that I’ll have to start on something else soon to get that literary “rush” once again. But I’m still feeling fine right now.

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stop social and environmental destruction!

stop social and environmental destruction!

Of all the characters in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the one that I came most to admire is Grover the satyr. He’s sort of a clown in The Lightning Thief, barely able to keep his Rastafarian hat and shoes on, let alone watch over Percy effectively. Yet by book five, he’s proud of his identity and seems to find the strength of will to go on, despite Pan’s death in The Battle of the Labyrinth, and his banishment by the Council of Cloven Elders; all the while maintaining a sense of humor. Who else could wake up from a dangerous magical sleep in Central Park, covered in muck, and complain so earnestly “They don’t serve very good enchiladas in the wilderness?” What a touching statement that takes us right to the point: Grover is a curious and successful blend of “the Wild” and civilization.

In these days of suburban sprawl, massive urban migration and the wholesale abandonment of rural spaces and lifestyles to huge agro businesses, we’re all kind of in the same boat. I felt a longing for more untamed lands while reading about Grover’s transformation. It’s like the impulse that seems to have driven Brad Kessler to leave New York for his tiny goat ranch in Vermont. I’m not ready to chuck it all in San Francisco just yet, but I get it.

Recently Hegui started reading The Sea of Monsters and was appalled to come across this line way at the beginning:

The monster’s shadow passed in front of the shop. I could smell the thing—a sickening combination of wet sheep wool and rotten meat and that weird sour body order only monsters have, like a skunk that’s been living off Mexican food.

It turns out to only have been a dream; but how odd to compare monster stench to a skunk dining on Mexican food. What does that mean?! Aren’t enchiladas Mexican? Is that racial profiling?

Just like Grover, we Americans want the comforts brought to us by multiculturalism, world trade and the exchange of ideas: each to his or her own enchilada. But, just as Grover was at the beginning of the series, we’re afraid of the consequences and long for the fading wild places. Aside from the obvious, pro-environmental, pro-green idea, the search for the disappearing Wild is simply an expression of nostalgia for a perfect past that never really existed and simultaneously the guilty admission of our anxiety about all things “different” from ourselves. We can’t escape the dilemma. We bring our civilization everywhere, and, after all, what is the Wild except anyplace where we humans cannot be found?

As one example, simply look at the history of our suburbs since the end of World War 2. Initially marketed as these ideal places of perfect uniformity and harmony with mankind, really safe havens from “the big city” and “the other,” on closer inspection, the reality is very different. Nowadays, all we hear about are the terrible “urban problems” like drugs, gangs and racially-motivated violence, etc., plaguing them. I never saw that on ‘Leave it to Beaver’ or ‘The Brady Bunch.’ And that’s my point: we bring these things with us because, whether you like it or not, they are part of us.

Instead of running scared from our problems into our gated communities and fantasy worlds; or worse, demonizing others with racial epithets, discrimination or war; why not act more like Grover the satyr? Embrace your little bit of paradise while at the same time actively engaging with the real world around you. Perhaps then we can have our wild enchiladas in comfort and peace, all together. I’ll have the vegetarian one, by the way…

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The Empire State Building in the gateway to Olympus and to great views

The Empire State Building is the gateway to Olympus and to great views

I’m in the middle of The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 5) and I’m having a problem: I’m completely addicted to this series!

I came across the books after seeing the amazing movie trailer for The Lightening Thief, which I understand is being released sometime in 2010. I was really struck by the part of the preview where the kid leaves the taxicab in front of the Empire State Building, enters one of the elevators and presses the very unusual “Omega” button at the top of the elevator control panel. The camera then pans up the side of the building, showing lights all the way into the more decorative art deco tip of the structure. Suddenly the elevator doors open and the audience is thrown into a state of awe, wonderingly gazing at Olympus. Wow! This movie looks so cool!!!

Naturally, I couldn’t wait to 2010 so I started reading the series last week. Yeah, that’s right; I started with book one seven days ago and today I’m in the middle of book five. Like I said, I’m addicted. It’s almost as bad as my Twilight obsession, though thankfully, that’s settling down a little.

It’s thrilling the way the series takes all of the old Greek stories and mixes them up in the modern United States. How awesome that the main entrance to the Underworld is in West Hollywood, for instance. That seems completely plausible to me. I used to live about six blocks from the Empire State Building. Who knew that I was so close to the throne room of the gods? And I totally get it that a cruise ship can be a force of evil!

I loved Greek mythology when I was in elementary school. I read Bullfinch’s and Edith Hamilton’s mythology compendiums in the sixth grade. I also played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons at that time of my life, so this Greek stuff came in handy. One Christmas, or maybe on my birthday, my folks bought me this drawing set. It was a bunch of magic markers and these large paper drawings of mythological scenes. The idea was to color them in yourself. I still vividly recall the picture with a huge glaring Medusa head right in the middle. Just like Percy, that freaked me out.

I’m an adult now though I won’t tell any of you my age. But I don’t think that that’s made me less interested in mythology adventure stories. That’s why it came as a shock to read on the Rick Riordan web site that the PJ series is listed under his writings for “children.”

Am I being insulted because I love this series?

I kind of get it in that the heroes are all kids: mostly pre-teens really, with Luke, the troubled bad guy, described as a teen-aged college model type. All of us “adults” were once pre-teens and teenagers so I don’t really see how the characters’ ages could be an issue per se. The series is written in a very accessible style, hence my ability to breeze through the whole thing in about a week. Perhaps that makes it a “children’s series?” Though, newspapers and magazines, which are clearly written for adults, have a similar kind of easy reading style, so I’m not convinced. Maybe because the books are co-published by Hyperion and the Disney Corporation they’re “supposed” to be for kids? That just seems silly to me.

And really, what’s so kid-style about a series of books that prominently features violence and death; sadistic, irresponsible adults; war; sexual infidelity; politics; the destruction of the environment and metaphysical speculations? If these aren’t “adult themes,” then what is?

There’s not much sex, if that’s what you’re thinking: so maybe the series is o.k. for little Bobby and Julie. It’s obvious that we Americans believe that a steady diet of violence is perfectly fine for our juvenile citizens. I’ll have a super-sized order of French fries to go with the killing and mayhem, please.

Snap out of it people! If Percy Jackson and the Olympians is for anyone, then it’s for everyone!

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