I’ve been tagged by gentle reader for the eight things about me meme. The rules are as follows:

  1. Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
  2. People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.
  3. At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names.
  4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment and tell them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

I have not written much about my life on this blog, so I think these will all be new items.

  1. My brother is my Uncle- not really, and it sounds weird and almost illegal, but- I met my brother’s niece (by marriage) so after we got married her uncle became her brother-in-law, so my brother kind of became my uncle and no, there is no blood relationship and it is legal in all 50 states so you can all lower your eyebrows. 🙂
  2. I was using the Internet before there was a World-Wide-Web. I started with a Commodore 64 and a 300-baud modem and once dialed in the only access was via telnet or ftp to Unix servers.
  3. About 5 years ago I couldn’t jog to the end of the driveway, but January 1st of that year I did, and then went a little farther the next day, and farther the next, and in October of that year I ran in the Twin Cities marathon. Over the next couple of years I finished 2 more marathons. I then gave it up since the training is so time consuming, especially for us slower runners.
  4. I’ve always been interested in the world and everything around me, from the skies to the backyard. I get hooked on something and read everything that I can about it. I can look at the sky and name many stars, and drive down the road and know what each of the trees and flowers are that I pass. I usually get bored after a certain point and move on to something else.
  5. Since I got out of high school I regretted not learning to play the piano. Early last year I finally decided to start lessons and I have really been enjoying it. I have no plans to ever entertain anyone other than myself. Note- It is never too late to learn something new.
  6. I’ve worked in Information Technology most of my life, for the days of punch cards and a mainframe that filled a room half the size of a football field, to this day when my laptop has more power than that room sized mainframe.
  7. In a couple of weeks, I will have been married for 31 years.
  8. Like most, I enjoy traveling. I went through a time when I didn’t like the lengthy car trips and preferred to fly if possible, but have since learned to enjoy seeing the country from the road.

Seems like most have already done this, so I’m on a quest to find those who haven’t so that I can tag them. I have enjoyed reading everyone else’s lists.

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Spring Run

May 6, 2007

springrun1.jpg I have never had any interest in owning a motorcycle, or even riding one. However, the first Sunday of every May for the last 20 years, I have enjoyed watching the yearly Spring Run that starts a few hundred yards from my home. Hundreds of riders converge at the host site of the National Motorcyle Hill Climb in the Lake Michigan dunes, and all the riders leave starting at 10:30 in the morning. I don’t know what their destination is, but for about 20 minutes they thunder past our house. I enjoy watching and imaging all the interesting events in these “characters” lives, and all the potential stories that could be written. (Obligatory “bookish” twist on a non-reading related posting) 🙂 springrun2.jpg

Guilty Pleasures

April 28, 2007

Last night I read Dorothy’s comments about the first section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert’s text and Dorothy’s comments about Puritan guilt and our inability to easily accept the gift of leisure paralleled my experience yesterday. (I won’t quote the post here, but suggest that you read it).

I had a vacation day yesterday, and regrettably it was one of those afternoon-long outlet shopping days for my wife. Typically I slog along with her for hours, bored, feeling like the day is wasted, hoping and praying for a book outlet around the next corner. Although I dread the experience I always feel guilty if I don’t follow along like a loyal puppy, nodding and smiling at the selections, carrying the bags, and providing stimulating conversation between stores.

Yesterday was different. I brought a book along and read in the car- it was a rather cold, drizzly day in the midwest. I felt guilty the whole time. She said it was fine. She said she preferred it because she always feels rushed knowing that I am just standing there waiting. I still spent much of the time distracted, not only by all the people walking past the car, but by the guilt that I didn’t deserve this time alone- that I should be doing something else.

(Digression alert) I should have parked in a corner of the lot- it is too enjoyable watching the diverse shoppers coping with their colorful bags and bored children. The fragile, elderly couple, bundled up in their sweaters and covered with rainwear heading out with a tentative, measured gait- returning after the trek with a little more pain in their eyes. They are quickly passed by two young men, acting oblivious to the cold and rain in their khaki shorts and now damp tshirts. New white sneakers, strollers, umbrellas, hats, husbands angry about something but eating cheesecake, too-young couples holding hands, piercings and tatoos, screaming kids, and smiles. I love people.

Back to my point – I’m distracted and guilty about being there reading- then I run across a passage in Nada that is different, but parallels what I am feeling.

“All the happiness I enjoyed during this time seemed somehow diminished by my obsession with reciprocating her consideration. Until then no one I loved had shown me so much affection, and I felt gnawed by the need to give her something more than my company, the need felt by all people who are not very attractive to make material payment for what is, to them, extraordinary: someone’s interest and affection.”

I marked the passage and then late in the evening I read Dorothy’s post. Why is it so difficult at times to accept gifts, complements, and even leisure time? Why can’t we accept that we are deserving beings? I wonder if this adds to our stress levels and all those illnesses associated with stress. Personally, I’m going to try to rid myself of those guilty feelings and just be grateful… and spend more time reading in parking lots.

The Weekend Today show just had a segment on the upcoming auction of the controversial Rice portrait of Jane Austen.
austen.jpg The controversy centers around whether or not the portrait is actually a portrait of Jane. There is some question regarding some features of dress as well as the hairstyle, although the auction house, Christie’s, is convinced of the authenticity. Either way, the portrait would make a nice edition to your library. The controversy appears to have impacted the cost, and it is expected to sell on Thursday the 19th for as little as $400,000 to $800,000.

The Today story featured the Jane Austen society and the interviews included a replica of Stefanie’s Jane Austen action figure.

Disappointing book day

April 14, 2007

Although Saturday is typically a good reading day, today was frustrating on several fronts. Imani’s new banner prompted me to visit the shelves looking for my copy of William Blake’s works. After several passes the realization set in that I no longer had it- either I loaned it out and it was never returned, or it was something that someone had interest in that I gave away. The larger frustration was with myself for not doing a better job of organizing my books- the search should have been much easier. I am curious how others organize their books- alphabetically by author, or grouped in some logical manner?

The good thing is that I stumbled on a book that Imani also mentioned in a recent post- Voss by Patrick White. That was frustrating as well since I know it has been there for about 15 years- I am again reminded of the number of books I have purchased at some time and have not found the time to read them.

My reading time was spent with one of the latest books from the Canongate mythology series. The anticipation of the pleasure of starting a new book was high, especially from a series that I have been enjoying. The book is from a highly touted, relatively young Russian author, Victor Pelevin.

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Those of you familiar with the series know that many of today’s top authors have been asked to rewrite some of the world’s well-known myths in a modern or memorable way. Margaret Atwood delivered the wonderful Penelopiad, and Jennette Winterson also did an awesome job with Weight. The Helmet of Horror is Pelevin’s rewrite of the myth of Theseus, the Minotaur, and the famous labyrinth.

The first few pages were intriguing and made me hopeful. The story starts with an entry from Ariadne-

“I shall construct a labyrinth in which I can lose myself, together with who tries to find me- who said this and about what?”

The entire story is written in the format of a chat room, with each of the “characters” trying to figure out what is going on. The cast of characters consist of the likes of Organizm, Nutscracker, Romeo-y-Cohiba, and Monstradamus. The idea soon becomes tiresome, but one reads on hoping at some point to “get it.” I didn’t. It just didn’t work, at least for me. If you haven’t read any books in the series, I strongly suggest that you start with any of the others. This is not a judgement of the body of work of Mr. Pelevin. Based on the other authors chosen for this series, I’m quite certain that he deserves my attention. I just wish I has been introduced to his talent with a different book.

Bich Minh Nguyen’s memoir “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner is the story of young immigrant trying to find her place in 1980s America, but it also the story of every young person trying to fit in at a time and place where differences were more often than not used as a weapon rather than something to be celebrated. We should be grateful that Bich eventually found her place and has recorded her story in this well-written and touching memoir.

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

Bich arrived in Michigan in 1975 from Saigon by way of a refugee camp Arkansas. It was her grandmother’s choice based on rumours passing through the camp about the three options- California (warm, but the most lunatics), Wyoming (cowboys), and Michigan (the blank unknown). They arrived in Grand Rapids, Michigan with five dollars and a knapsack of clothes- a humble new beginning for a family of Vietnamese Buddhists in city of tall blond conservative Christians.

Food is central tool throughout the story. A canister of Pringles potato chips or the smell of a hot pan of Tollhouse cookies, juxtaposed over the lot line with cha gio or banh chung, serves as a constant reminder throughout the memoir of the cultural differences impacting this young girl and her family making their way in a strange, sometimes hostile place.

It is not difficult to imagine the struggles, the fear, and the pain of growing up as an immigrant in a “sea of blond.” School years are difficult enough for anyone who stands out as different from the norm. Kids can be, well, downright mean. Things as simple as bringing the wrong lunch to school, or not having the right clothes can lead to sleepless nights. And for Bich, it wasn’t just the kids. As a lover of words and spelling, she won a spelling contest.

That afternoon as I started toward home I remembered that I’d forgotten my rain boots in my locker. I doubled back to school and overheard Mrs. Andersen in the classroom talking to another teacher. “Can you believe it,” she was saying. “A foreigner winning our spelling bee?”

This is not a memoir of complaints. Bich describes it best herself-

I think of this memoir as an homage to childhood, suburbia, and all the bad food, fashion, music, and hair of the deep 1980’s. It is also about an immigrant’s dilemma to blend in or remain apart.

I admit that this book touched my on several levels- I grew up in the same area and many of the settings throughout the book are familiar. I went through school in the 1970’s and still clearly remember some of the struggles and pain caused by the slightest difference from the norm. I believe today we are a more aware and accepting of diversity. This is a first book, but is very well written, and does an excellent job of capturing the challenge for a large group immigrants at a difficult period in our history.

This weekend I was on a quest to spend a $50 Amazon certificate that I earned as a reward on my credit card. (Great way to assuage the guilt of excessive buying- I now pay for all my groceries, gas, utilities- virtually everything that I can with a credit card to get the rewards. It consolidates a lot of payments as well.) Anyway, I went to the canongate site to see if any new books were out in the awesome myth series (there were two).

——— if you are easily offended, please don’t read on —-

Well, I got to the site and they are advertising The Book of Lists. The advertisement changes to a random list each time that one visits. When I arrived at the site of course the lead is “6 Positions for Sexual Intercourse – in Order of Popularity.” Not what I was looking for, but curiosity got the better of me and I clicked the link. Pretty boring list, but what what was interesting was the lead statement- “Gershon Legman, an American who wrote about sex, calculated that there are more than 4 million possible ways for men and women to have sexual intercourse with each other.” I started thinking and counting, thinking some more and counting some more. I worked on my list for hours, and quit in frustration at 2,423. I’m sorry Mr. Legman, but I think you are mistaken.

I regret the wasted time but moved on to the literature lists, a couple of which are enjoyable. “6 curious poetry anthologies” included this book of poetry, which I found after a bit of a search on a ping pong museum auction site. The book sold for a little over $200.
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The next list was “11 incredible lipograms.” Not having a clue what a lipogram was, I had to check it out. Now I know:

A form of verbal gymnastics, lipograms are written works that deliberately omit a certain letter of the alphabet by avoiding all words that include that letter. `Lipo’ actually means `lacking’ – in this case lacking a letter. An example of a contemporary lipogram is the nursery rhyme, `Mary Had a Little Lamb’, rewritten without the letter s:

Mary had a little lamb
With fleece a pale white hue,
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb kept her in view;
To academe he went with her,
Illegal, and quite rare;
It made the children laugh and play
To view a lamb in there.

– A. Ross Eckler

Turns out there are 11 books out there that were intentionally written with one or more letters of the alphabet missing. I have read one of them, Mark Dunn’s Ella Minnow Pea“. In this book, more and more letters are eliminated as the novel progresses. It was fun, although increasing difficult to read.

The last list I checked out was “8 unlikely how-to books.” Hard to believe, but How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art is a legitimate manual- Nice gift idea for those that take long hikes in the wilderness. And for the less skillful boaters out there, how about “How to Avoid Huge Ships“. Again, a serious book written by Captain John W Trimmer, a captain likely tired of dealing with silliness on the seas.

I did end up buying the latest books in the myth series, and managed it before my April 1 deadline. Now I start actually keeping track on my blog of my purchases and borrowing in relation to my actual reading. I’m hoping with the count continually in front of me, I can stop the tide of books waiting to be read.

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