walkingshadow: anne taintor. it's not easy being easy. (Default)
You know what I need? New icons. NEW ICONS. Everybody has such pretty icons, man, and I get crazy jealous. I'm tired of mine. What should I make? Who wants to make one for me? And which ones should survive the great purge that is a-comin'?

This is a new icon—or rather, an icon that I started months ago and then abandoned, but I resurrected it tonight. It's keyworded the boy's got a lot to be mad about.

It rained all day again today, and based on weather reports from regions to the north of us, I think we can expect more of the same tomorrow. I like weather. I get a community feeling from fronts that sweep down from Canada, through most of the states in my time zone and some to either side, until they finally drift down to us, warmer and maybe messier but often just as wet. I feel close to everyone who bitches about snow or thunderstorms when the rain comes to my house a week or three days later, a hand-me-down feeling, a you-too? kind of connection with the whole world. I also grin as we all make our left-hand turns when the arrow turns green, everybody playing their proper role in our little traffic dance. I don't know if this is symptomatic of the way I don't get close to people, or the cause of it, but I have the feeling it's somehow related, either way.

But—it rained today. S. and I met up at Barnes & Noble where it poured and poured outside while inside we ate sandwiches, browsed, and lost our wills to live over a casual study session for the GRE. This is where I lodge my official rage at the GRE and, for that matter, all standardized tests! I realized today that I've gone four years without sitting down to take a standardized test, and those were good years. The last time Educational Testing Services and I danced a tango, I burned through five AP tests in a week at the end of my senior year of high school, fifteen hours or so of sitting in a desk filling in bubbles and feverishly scrawling timed essays. I didn't mind those nearly as much as I minded the SAT or, now, the GRE. With the exception of the writing component, the two look identical. My advice to high school juniors and seniors today who are in the standardized-testing zone already and won't (in accordance with Weber's Law) really notice one more, is to take the GRE now and get it out of the way. Similar scores would be one indication of a lack of testing validity, right?

If it had anything to do with what I've been doing for the past four years, or if it had anything to do with the skills or knowledge I would need for graduate school, or even if it was a basic measure of intelligence (though you could debate long and loud the relative merits and demerits of IQ tests and different kinds of intelligence and whether, in the end, any of them would predict success or failure in a specific learning environment) I would not mind. But it is none of those things: it is a measure of how well you can study for a test—which probably is one indicator of how well you might fare in college/graduate school*, but that's immediately biased against people who can't afford study guides and thousand-dollar Kaplan courses. I mean, the majority of the "verbal" section is composed of "antonyms" and "analogies", which basically tests your raw vocabulary—and not only that, but your familiarity with the least-frequently-used words. Why do I not believe them when they say this section will measure my "effectiveness at solving a problem hinging on [my] command of the English language"?

And to be totally honest, I'm bitter because I haven't done Algebra II** since ninth grade, and I haven't brushed up on systems of equations since I last studied for the SAT in eleventh grade, so I totally got served when I sat down cold to the practice test this afternoon. Other things to be bitter about: the test is completely computerized now, meaning you get your (unofficial) score immediately (which, by the way, I have never enjoyed! I like at least a day between the effort and the evaluation), but you have to answer the questions in the order in which they appear, so 1) you can't skip a question and come back to it later, and 2) you can't go back and check your work. The other big change from paper-and-pencil tests is that computer tests (this one, at least) are adaptive, so they give you harder or easier questions based on your correct or incorrect answers. I'm sure that as more and more tests become computerized and they eventually enter the classroom to replace Scantrons and the like, that new test-taking strategies will emerge to elicit the test-taker's best possible performance, but I don't have those strategies. All I have is IRE.

* But not necessarily, if you'll just compare the study habits of (for example) myself and former-roommate N., along with our respective test scores.
** Is this stuff even Algebra II or is it all just Algebra I? I can't remember anymore. It's been a while, is all I'm saying. I could integrate better than I could tell you exactly how much pears cost apiece if three of my friends bought pears, apples, and oranges in different combinations but either neglected to note the unit prices or else are refusing to tell me.

After we lost the will to live, we wandered the aisles, recommending books to each other, and I bought pocket-sized books of weekend NYT crossword puzzles, to keep in my bag along with whatever book I happen to be carrying—because, as Edward Conlon explained to someone who asked, you never know when nothing's going to happen. I drove home in rain but stopped on the way at Batten's Farm for a fresh strawberry milkshake and picked up peaches while I was there. I'd walked right past them, but their scent drew me back. At home I napped for an hour and a half, until my mom woke me for dinner of Thai take-out.

My parents had taken out The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas the other night to show me who Charles Durning was (a perennial That Guy for me), and started watching it; we finished it tonight, or rather they did, and I excused myself to read or something. The movie was cute, and maybe I should have had more fun with it or appreciated the town's open acknowledgement and wholesome treatment of their whores, but I kept getting hung up on the phrase romanticization of prostitution, which is a clunky and pretentious thing to have scrolling through my brain, but there it was. I watched The Poseidon Adventure with my dad tonight too, and the dialogue was formulaic and cheesetastic, but what kept bothering me was the gender roles and distribution of labor. I understand it's a disaster movie (one of the first of its kind and boy did it set the tone for the genre), so stock characters are to be expected, but the way it broke down, the women had great legs and wore short shorts and high heels while they screamed and panicked and clutched at the men to save them. The men weren't contemptuous about it, just helpful and stoic; when the men froze up it was the other men who got them to continue, not by gentle coaxing, but by bracing, blustery, these-people-need-you! or are-you-man-or-mouse?! pep talks.

I think that slash, at some level, is behind this. That is, my reading slash has affected the way I view this film. Disaster movies from the 1970s (their ruffled shirts and humongous bow ties!) have a different and skewed presentation of gender from what I see in my daily life today, but even in real life today I'm often taken aback by the way men and women interact and are expected to interact with each other. I spend so much of my time reading about relationships (intimate and otherwise) between men, exclusively. It's fanfiction, so the relationships are often idealized on both the personal and the macro (cultural, political) levels, but they meet as equals in a way men and women never get to. There are often other confounding factors at work—preconceived notions, power differentials, "my friends all hate you!", "I'm not really gay!"—but even that last one is eased (a function of fiction, perhaps) by that recognition of equality and you're-like-me (and not just in the, "hey, he has a cock too!" kind of way). The distancing effects of courtship and whatever "games" women are supposed to play (and the accompanying resignation and resentment men feel at jumping through those hoops) are eliminated, ipso facto. I need more data for comparison. I've never been a reader of femslash, so I don't know if the same set-ups are found there; but really the question must be what is it actually like—from here it feels like culture and history are what stand between men and women: patriarchy and pornography, men's clubs and women's magazines, double standards and Sigmund Freud. It concerns me; it worries me; it gets my back up. And yet, even though it feels like same-sex couples must meet in a space removed from those reverberating expectations, surely it's more the case that the expectations are simply different? I know I've been immersing myself in fantasies all along, large fantasy worlds with thousands of different dreams inside them, but just because I've been over-exposed to unattainable ideals doesn't mean that I need to dismiss all of my dissatisfaction. I'm still sorting it out, it's too amorphous to even be coherent yet, but some of it at least I plan to hang on to and fight for.

I finished Never Let Me Go today: I was impatient and eventually unsatisfied with it, and I think fanfiction, along with all the nonfiction I've been reading lately, has something to do with that as well. This isn't the first novel I've found lacking recently, and the problem is in the pacing, or the thinness of the plot, or both. I read an awful lot of fanfic, and because I'm kind of a snob, and because I can, I read an awful lot of really, really high-quality fanfic. Across the board, with few exceptions, really good fanfic is tight, everything to the purpose and nothing in it that doesn't advance the story. I can think of two reasons for this (and I'm sure there are others): 1) the focus on the relationship (and even in a gen story the focus is almost always on the character(s)), and 2) essentially unlimited flexibility with regard to story length. There are a lot of novel-length stories floating around fandom, but there are a whole lot more mid-length, short, and tiny stories (see: the drabble, whatever your feelings about it) that always give the impression they were written until they were done, not to pad pages or fulfill a word count. It means the novel-length stuff needed to be novel-length, and I never read a section of it and wonder why it was there, or wish the author would just get to the fucking point already. I've been spoiled.

There was an internal problem with Never Let Me Go, too—it was first-person, and the storytelling method including mentioning an event in passing, with the assurance that she (the narrator) would explain it to us later, and I hate that, when people do it in real life as well as in a story like this. Either tell me something or don't, but don't hint around it, and especially don't hint around things throughout the entire book. The book itself was about a possible present: it's a slow—very, very slow—reveal, but essentially it's about the ethics of cloning, the status of clones, and our responsibility to them. But the revelation of information went too slow for the amount of information that was revealed, and the last few pages ended in a Goblet of Fire-style expository infodump. I'd have cared more if it had been paced better, is what I came away thinking, instead of barely caring at all.

walkingshadow: anne taintor. it's not easy being easy. (people can lose their lives in libraries)
It's mighty tedious experimenting with lj styles on a dial-up connection. That's self-evident, isn't it? The problem is, I like my journal style; all those right angles make me happy inside in a way right angles probably shouldn't, and it's all clean and simple and narrow down the center of the page, as I am reclaiming the vertical on my computer monitor. I like that each entry is separated; I like that it links to my allpics page; I like that it shows the day of the week along with the date. I just get bored, so every now and then I rifle through the other styles, channel Goldilocks, and end up just messing minutely with my colors. I give the purple one day to grow on me, and then I'm changing it back or trying something new.

I've been doing so little these past few days it's barely worth recounting, but I did read Ella Minnow Pea: kinda cute and a little too clever, but at least it didn't take up too much of my time. It's the story of a tiny island nation off the Carolina coast whose claim to fame is that the man who created the sentence The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog was a native son. A monument of the immortal pangram has stood for a hundred years or so, but letters have started falling off, which the island Council interprets as a SIGN from beyond the grave that those letters should no longer be used in speech or writing. It's an epistolary novel, so we see the islanders struggling to communicate using progressively fewer and fewer letters as the Council gets more and more fanatical. It's an interesting premise, I just felt like a lot more could have been done with it. I'm almost done with Never Let Me Go—I'll give it its last forty pages to surprise me.

I woke up to rain this morning, and I woke up early, to have breakfast with my father. By "early" I mean my dad wanted to leave by ten, so I set my alarm for nine-fifteen and dragged myself into the shower at nine-forty. We ate at a diner (I think we're just taking a tour of all of them) on US-1, a diner now open 24 hours!—something to remember when it's midnight and all the city is silent. My dad and I split the paper and I drank coffee and ate eggs and biscuits while I mocked the Sentinel sportswriter for stupidity and mediocrity, lamenting the lack of cable in this house, which means I'll be missing the Federer-Nadal French Open semifinal tomorrow. So it goes. Then I spread the crossword out next to me, hiding my coffee cup, so that later, when a waitress came by at the end of our meal, while we were just lingering, she was confused and apologetic, having not refilled me earlier. I said it was okay—if I'd wanted more coffee and she hadn't seen my cup, I would have asked for some. She made some jokey comment about my not looking old enough to even drink coffee, and when asked, said first that I looked to be in my "early teens," then revised to seventeen. Ha! If I'd had my hair in ponytail buns like I've been wearing it occasionally I probably could have passed for twelve.

My dad said he essentially owned me until three—the time I'd normally be just getting up. Which was slightly unfair, really; by three I've usually at least had breakfast. The skies opened up on the way out of the restaurant and kept opening wider and wider as we drove down Stirling and into the Barnes & Noble parking lot. It was raining so hard that I waited to dart out of the car and into the store, even though we'd pulled up right to the overhang. We spent an hour or two browsing. I was poking through the essay section looking for likely library material when a woman down the aisle near the children's section started hitting her child. She pushed her, and kicked her when she fell down, and a man who'd come up behind me said "if I see her do that again I'm calling the police. Did she just kick her?" and I nodded at him silently, wide-eyed, probably looking even younger than the waitresses had thought. They left though, the child and the mother and another woman who might have been the mother's mother, the child wailing through the store. I don't know where the man went.

I almost got The Best American Nonrequired Reading (edited by David Eggers and Viggo Mortensen), but in the end came away with only The New Lifetime Reading Plan. It's patronizing and necessarily limited and focused quite a lot on dead white European males; this "new" edition boasts the inclusion of "literatures of the whole world", an admirable goal, but it comes with this baffling passage from the preface: "The inclusion in this edition of such works as the Koran—the fundamental scripture of Islam—and the Zen scripture The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch raises the question of why the Bible is not listed here as well. The reason is simple. We assume that nearly every reader of this book will own a Bible and be at least somewhat accustomed to reading it; and there is nothing we might try to say about it that would not seem presumptuous." I thought that was quite an assumption to be making about their readership. But perhaps that's just me! Well, me and my mother, who looked incredulous when I read it out to her. But I recognized just about every author they included so I figured they'll make a good starting point. The editors talk earnestly about quotidian drudgery leaving one mentally unsatisfied and the enlargement of the mind that will result from Great Conversations with these great minds. It's a little irritating, but I know there's quite a lot to be said for digging into the primary texts. I'll break up my reading schedule with Nietzsche or Montaigne or The History of the Peloponnesian War, trading off as I've been doing: math for crime, history for autobiography, novels for science, something heavy for something light. I have all the textbooks I've never read. I have nothing but time.

We saw Madagascar after we'd made off with our books (and after we'd sat in on the end of The Longest Yard, since we were half an hour early for our showing) which was, you know, cute. I had to keep reminding myself to shut up and enjoy the anthropomorphism. Obviously I haven't been getting out enough. My mom called my cell phone just as my dad and I were driving by her school; he dropped me off, and my mom and I paid a visit to my grandmother, who was very chipper and relatively lucid today. It comes and goes, but today was a good day.

I need desperately to get to a gym. Forget the loss of muscle tone and the jeans that are too tight in the thigh, I'd like to get my metabolism and energy up again, I'd like to not be stiff and slightly achy when I wake up in the afternoon. I miss swinging my body through its whole range of motion, and I just won't do it on my own. I've been helping my mother get a routine started, and I do a little weights and stretching at the same time, but my body is not impressed. I want to get to the Y this week (not today, though today was a good today, and not tomorrow because I'm meeting S. for lunch and GRE studying), and then sometime next week [livejournal.com profile] malelia_honu and I should be able to work out together for a little while, just to get me started with a fucking routine. I'd go jogging, but it's South Florida out there and the humidity has come. Plus I hate jogging. I take it all back.

March 2011

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