Monday, August 25, 2014

The Platonic Form of England

When faced with the prospect of meeting a real, live, English person, I always get excited. Raised on a steady diet of BBC miniseries ranging from the famous one which shall remain nameless which starred Colin Firth, to the really archaic adaptations of Thomas Hardy, I’ve always preferred British television to that of American, and in this glorious age of Downton Abbey and BBC America, I, like Plato, know the form of the perfect British person. The British man should be a mix of Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Tom Hiddleston, and Alan Rickman. The British woman should be a mix of Emma Thompson, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, and Emma Watson. 

So when I meet a British person who could easily pass for an American exhibiting the worst of American fashions, it’s as if my beautiful bubble of Dickensian fantasies has been burst. 

This tragedy happened to me quite recently. I had to listen carefully for any hint of an accent, and he dressed just like an American. Not a hint of tweed, not a hint of whimsy, nothing. He may have even had American weapons hidden on his person. 

That is the main reason I have never been to England. A Platonic form of England lives in my head, and to wake up someday and realize that it is only perfect, grey, misty, beautiful London in my head, and in reality is just like New York City is a sadness which I cannot bear. So I shall shut my eyes to it. When someday I visit the great empire that was, I shall confine myself to Scotland, which I have no expectations of, and therefore cannot disappoint me.

Monday, August 4, 2014

On Beards, Daisies, and the American Man

Beards have three purposes. The first is to hide features which need hiding in order to be made marketable. Think Abraham Lincoln, whose beard won him the presidency of the United States. The second is to enhance features on an already good looking face, giving it a rakish or dangerous look. Think Rex Harrison, who grew a beard to win over American audiences and push his career to transatlantic stretches. Think Cary Grant, who sported a particularly nice one in his eighties. These men understood that beards weren't excuses for laziness on the face. They understood that growing a beard meant that they would have to shoulder the great responsibility of taking care of their beards. 

The last purpose of a beard is one which is unique to Major League Baseball, and that is to grow the largest, scariest beard you can possibly come up with in order to freak out your opponents who are half expecting a rat to crawl out and launch itself at them. 

All of these are worthy pursuits, ones I can completely respect. But we live in the age of the hipster, one which takes fashions of old, re-appropriating them for the new, and often losing something in the translation of said fashions. In the pursuit of manliness, men often forget the key step of grooming and upkeep, meaning that their faces often look as if a small, unidentified mammal (hitherto only found in the darkest depths of the deepest forests), crawled onto their faces, and promptly died there. If I see one more hideous beard, with uneven hairs growing out, catching the light just so, I think I might scream. 

The beard craze is out of hand, and needs to be stopped. A beard should enhance the face, not make the owner of the beard look like they belong on a park bench with a Hefty bag of his most prized possessions. I can only assume that misguided men everywhere believe beards are catnip to girls, awakening some long slumbering impulse to mate. That's not true, because nothing about the raggedy hair growing out of your face says to a girl that you are a superior specimen of virility. The recent trend of weaving daisy chains in your beard and then Instagramming said monstrosity makes me feel even less convinced that you have any viable sperm in your body, and even more convinced that you are uninterested in anything but your own self. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Corgis: The Socially Acceptable Possum; or, Does Anything Good Come Out of Wales?

There’s an old saying that pets resemble their owners. Or maybe it’s vice versa. This isn’t always true. However it is true that your pet may have your personality. So what kind of dog you choose to own can say a lot about you. 

Some dogs are obviously great. Like collies. Anyone who owns a collie is usually a very good person, because Lassie. People who own golden retrievers also fall into the category of great people. Fussy people have fussy little Shih Tzus, and quirky people who often have very sage advice get Scotty dogs. 

And then there are corgis.

I first realized that corgis are a symbol of all that is wrong with this world when I saw one for the first time. I was watching the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, an annual event in our house that caused all matter of excitement for my sister and I. My mom would record it, and then we would watch it at intervals over the course of about a week, taking great care to stay away from all the news channels. This was before the days of the Internet, where people complain about going on CNN’s homepage and finding spoilers for sports events. Back then, we used common sense about avoiding spoilers. But back to the subject of demon dogs.

The camera was focusing on the head, slowly panning to reveal a body which most decidedly did not fit with the head. I asked my mom why Westminster was letting mutant dogs in its dog show. Corgis aren't mutant, she replied. They're a thing. Just a very ugly thing, and don't say anything because your father's family likes them and we don't want him to cause another scene.

Corgis are the dog version of Frankenstein's monster, and whoever designed them had about as much originality as Dr. Frankenstein, for they clearly stole their legs from basset hounds, their faces from beagles, and the bodies from a dog which most likely had much longer legs. In short, corgis are the stuff that nightmares are made of. 

More inbred than cocker spaniels, corgis are, incidentally, the queen's favorite dog. This should be no shock to anyone, since the Windsor family may be more inbred than cocker spaniels. Perhaps like beings attract, or perhaps it's all part of an evil plan on the part of a corgi breeder who is lining Queen Elizabeth's coffers in exchange for good advertising. Eventually they may line her coffin, because  Prince Charles is never photographed with his mother's beloved pests. One can only imagine his mother's obsession with mutant dwarf canines have soured him on the species for life. We also know that Lupo is most decidedly not a corgi. 

Whatever your stance may be on corgis, I think we can all agree that they are pitied, and used as a kind of object lesson. Corgis should be the face of why incest is never a good idea.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Life Lessons From Tom Kitten

Though people love to argue these days, one thing almost everyone can agree upon is that the years of your childhood form the basis of who you are. 

I was reminded of my childhood when someone recently tweeted out a copy of part of the Beatrix Potter tale called, well, I can't remember the name. I only know some very large, mean mice, (or were they rats) decided to capture poor Tom Kitten (don't ask me how since he was easily large enough to sit on them, but then again, they were quite tall), roll him up in butter and dough, and then stick him in the oven.

As an adult I look at this in horror. How perfectly monstrous to even propose that evil mutant mice would decide to bake a kitten alive. A bad kitten, but still very much a kitten. A furry, fluffy kitten wearing a fancy blue romper. A romper I don't think they were even planning on taking off, which leads me to wonder how much of this was hunger and how much was simply revenge.

With this in mind, the mutant mice seem like sadistic kidnappers from a Coen brothers movie. What sort of monster would roll a child in dough, bake him, and then leave him for his mother to find? Evil mutant mice, that's who. 

But we never think of this as children. We don't think about the deeper meanings inherent in baking poor Tom Kitten (and rolling him in dough. Ew.) We just know that that very tall mouse and her evil chubby cohort mouse was evil, and because of this we unconsciously distrust anyone who vaguely resembles these two mice. You just know these mice were most likely shifty eyed, even when dealing with those of their own species and not just rambunctious kittens.

These are important life lessons. The lesson of why you shouldn't venture into spaces where evil mutant mice could possibly truss you up with string and cover you with butter quite easily transitions into why you should away from mean spirited people in general. And ultimately into why you should never trust anyone who cannot make eye contact, because it almost certainly will never come to an ending of buttercups and daisies, but will turn your life into a tragedy. 

People are always concerned with what to teach our children nowadays, but I believe that perhaps we would have more luck with future generations if we gave them more of the horrifying Beatrix Potter so that hopefully some sense could crop up in their heads years later, when confronted with people who may be just like the mutant mice, though they look like human beings. 

Because sadly, a lot of human beings are out there who have the souls of evil mutant mice. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Perils of Missionary Life

Growing up children are scared of strange things. Whether they'll be expected to eat goulash at Grandma's house, whether "we'll see" will turn into a "no" or a "yes", whether the monster they suspect is hiding under the bed will, one day, actually materialize and eat them as they're asleep. Or even worse, when they're awake. I worried about these things as a kid. But the one defining thing I was consistently terrified of was even stranger. I was worried I'd be called to be a missionary. 

Like any good Baptist kid I was in Sunday School as soon as the door was open. I knew all the books of the Bible by heart and could recite them, and could also recite the order of Hebrew kings from the very confusing books First and Second Kings and First and Second Chronicles. Even more importantly, I could distinguish between First and Second Chronicles and First and Second Corinthians. But when it came to the annual "Missions Month", a month which consumed every November, effectively blocking my favorite season of all which was Christmastime when we would get to sing carols with fake candles and eat cookies during Sunday School, I would gain all the emotiveness of Siri and shut down, becoming a little automaton reciting her memory verses. 

Much was made of Missions Week. They were clever with their marketing, too, showing exotic pictures of far away lands which were so hot it seemed to render modesty useless since there is no practical reason for wearing all the clothes you wear as an American little girl in a land where they have no concept of snow. The teachers would bring in letters from any friend of theirs who had graduated in their college classes and then self-exiled themselves to places like Papua New Guinea, Chile, and the Dominican Republic. And they would always end with reminding us how missionaries were extremely important and that God loved them and that we must all remember how blessed missionaries are. 

I had no interest in this. No interest whatsoever. I failed to see how the life of a missionary could be blessed, and though I knew by heart the verse about storing up treasure in heaven, I didn't see why I couldn't store up treasure in heaven by telling, (in my very best Hermione Granger style), little Billy the class reprobate that Revelation was ALWAYS the last book to be found in the Bible. 

To tell you the truth, I had no interest in being dirty, going without, or living in some far away country that I would never see my friends or family again unless on that magical time period known as furlough which only came every arbitrary four or seven years. I would save my dimes to buy little Charity's family enough grape kool-aid to last those four years, but since I myself hated grape kool-aid I counted my blessings that it would not have to be me drinking it and was quite thankful that a visit would not be expected, since Africa was quite out of the question for a seven year old girl. 

Then, when I was 13, I met Jane Eyre, a woman who felt no compunction to go be a missionary despite St. John's sanctimonious attempts to manipulate her into a missionary marriage. She said no. She wasn't called to be a missionary, and knew it would kill her. Suddenly truth flashed before my eyes. It was possible to not be a missionary. There was no such thing as a calling for everyone, and though people said this was the most noble of all callings, just because everyone says something doesn't mean it is true. As Jane Eyre measured truth against her own sense f right and wrong, so too I was allowed to do the same. The flood of relief that filled my soul was indescribable. Not everyone has to be a missionary. And even more importantly, not everyone is called to be a missionary. I leave the missionary things to those who enjoy things like that, and enjoy drinking non-grape-kool-aid drinks to my heart's content. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Why Nanowrimo is Ridiculous

Nanowrimo is a word which you never hear until the last week in October, when all your friends suddenly begin throwing it around with startling alacrity. You google it, and find that it means National Novel Writing Month. You are confused. You are even more confused that this epic wordathon take place during November, a month that responsible people generally begin planning their holidays and celebrating Thanksgiving and getting their work done so that they can celebrate said holidays. 

In other words, I'm far too busy to write a novel. It might be better if it took place during another month, say August, when the news is at its slowest. In August, everyone's bored out of their minds. They need an activity which keeps them indoors and out of the oppressive heat. But the geniuses behind Nanowrimo didn't really think it through, and picked November because November starts with NO and goes in Nanowrimo.

Nevertheless, none of these things surprise you as much as the idea that people you never knew had any desire to write a book are suddenly all convinced that they could be the next EL James. 

I say EL James, because very few of the books which have ever emerged from this marathon writing month have ever actually been deemed much good. Or, let's say they're good, but they're not exactly the kind that the New Yorker takes seriously unless it's featured in the Borowitz Report. Like Water for Elephants, a story so compelling, that when they made it into a film, they decided to cast Edward Cullen as its star. If this doesn't say something about your story, I don't know what does. 

None of these would be authors ever seemed to have a bent for writing fiction before, so at first you merely read their twitter updates and Facebook updates with something akin to quiet amusement. The amusement is tinged with annoyance as November grows closer each and every day, and you see much wailing, angst, and general gnashing of teeth as the reality of the thousands of words dawn on them. 

You see promoted tweets in your timeline, giving such gems of advice to vanquish writer's block. Some of these are practical suggestions, like killing off a character every time you get stuck in your narrative. Some of these are psychopathic suggestions, like switching from first to third person narratives without warning, in order to either disturb your reader or give them a headache, I hardly know which.  

November progresses. You begin receiving strange and random Facebook messages which make no sense from people at times when normal human beings are generally asleep. Your twitter timeline is awash with people wailing about how editing should count as much as writing. Their wailing segues into resignation, and then quiet condemnation of any month long celebration in which people are supposed to turn word counts into something halfway readable. They all decide to skip Thanksgiving celebrations with their families in favor of catching up to the word count that they lost way back on the third of November, and you take great delight in Instagramming your Thanksgiving dinner and happy face and posting it to every social media outlet you use, knowing that it will rankle their little word hungry souls. 

They are right to wail, because they are suffering, but they are gravely mistaken about what all this suffering is for. It’s not suffering for art. Suffering for your art means that you are starving in an attic and will be immortalized by Puccini as soon as you die. 

Nanowrimo is suffering for money. Everyone's heard the stories of the authors whose November scribblings turned into legitimate books, like the aforementioned Water for Elephants or the Night Circus. Neither of these books were very good, but they at least made considerable amounts of money, especially considering that no one gets rich off of writing anymore. They made this money because thousands of the other people who fancy that they’ll write books in the month of November buy them to try and find out how to do it.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Off With Her Head: Why I Hate Bloody Marys

There are many mysteries in life, and I have learned to be content with most of them. I understand that the ocean is deep, and so we may never have answers about things like giant squid or the missing Malaysian airplane. I understand that I'll never understand the male brain, and will have to live with many mysteries which stem from male brains interfering in my decidedly female life. And I even understand the need of some people to insert themselves into my consciousness and be so annoying that they drive me up the wall. I have a cure for that. It's called blocking on every form of social media known to 21st century girlkind. But there's one mystery which I shall never understand. The mystery which is called the Bloody Mary. 

I'm not sure who woke up one morning and thought how great it would be to mix tomato juice and vodka together. I'm not sure who thought it would be great to stick a celery stalk in it. It could have been a depressed health nut from California. It could have been a nasty leftover from the mid century, when all of America's housewives were competing for the Campbell Soup Wife of the Year Award by creating horrendous side dishes primarily from aspic and canned pineapple. But whoever it was had a sense of humor, for the named it after one of England's greatest witches ever, Bloody Queen Mary. So we do know that the mysterious person was not a Catholic. 

I'm not sure what first set me against tomato juice. My mom loved it, and did her best to inculcate a similar love in me. But four year olds aren't always rational, and almost certainly never think of things in terms of health. After the first sip I stubbornly set my mind against this devious red juice that looked like fruit juice but decidedly did not taste like fruit juice. If you want the taste of tomato, eat a tomato. This is my life motto.

Now that I'm grown, I can see the romance in the idea of drinking a glass of tomato juice every morning. I'm sure it's very healthy, and I only wish I were one of those people who are probably very tall and skinny and indulge in a glass of tomato juice. This is the same sort of person who always looks effortlessly comfortable in high heels. I am sure this person may go under the name of Kate Middleton, who is practically perfect in every way.  What's more these tall, perfect people refer to tomato juice as an indulgence. Like those people who claim Greek yogurt is like dessert. I don't believe that for one minute, and neither should you. 

Romance is fleeting, and there's a lot more required in a good relationship than the romance of Ryan Gosling GIFs. I've accepted that tomato juice and I will never be a couple. But that's okay. In life we all must make peace with who we are, and learn to stop comparing ourselves to other people. I will never be that girl who manages to make a morning commute look easy in five inch heels, and that's okay. I have learned to be content with the look of Audrey Hepburn in flats circa 1954, and I have also learned that it's okay to be content with mimosas. Because champagne and orange juice is always a good idea, and the misguided souls ordering Bloody Marys can be happy because there's more for them in the end.