may 2013 books.

I wish I could say that I haven't been writing because I've been reading a bunch of books. I have read a bunch of books, but I haven't been writing for a far less noble reason: pure laziness. Anyway, on with the books! I'm still focusing on books about France or written by French people.

Rafael Sabatini
Sabatini was not French, but Italian. He was a polyglot, and he chose to write in English. I wish I were a polyglot, or even a biglot. However, this book's plot is all wrapped up in the French Revolution, so it counts as part of my France reading.

The book starts up right before the revolution and follows the fortunes of one André-Louis Moreau, a godson of a local lord. His friend Philippe is a priest who believes passionately in the rights of the common man, but Moreau is unconcerned. He says that the commoners are being told to revolt by the merchants, when it is the merchants who will really benefit from the overthrow of the nobility. And even if it happened, it would be just a new set of masters.

Has it ever occurred to you, Philippe, what it is that makes the rule of the nobles so intolerable? Acquisitiveness. Acquisitiveness is the curse of mankind. And shall you expect less acquisitiveness in men who have built themselves up by acquisitiveness? Oh, I am ready to admit that the present government is execrable, unjust, tyrannical - what you will; but I beg you to look ahead, and to see that the government for which it is aimed at exchanging it may be infinitely worse.

That is a fair point, sir.

But then! Philippe is killed in a duel. And André resolves to carry on his friend's fight. He still does not believe in it, but he's a smart guy and he can talk the talk. So he goes and riles up a couple of mobs with fancy rhetoric and gets people to write some demands. As a result of being such a trouble-maker, he's wanted by the law. He goes into hiding.

I'll quit now with the plot summary, but there is swash-buckling and adventure and romance, with generous bits of philosophy mixed in. I learned a great new word: spadassinicide. It's when you provoke someone into a duel (either you insult them so they challenge you or you provoke them into insult you so you can challenge them), and then you kill them because it turns out that you're really awesome at sword-fighting and they're terrible. There was a whole series of those going on in the Senate, because all the nobility had been trained in things like fencing, while the regular folks did not have that advantage.

There is a movie, which I saw a few years back. I do not remember it very well, other than it's famous for having a really long swordfight. Based on my vague memories of it, I have to assume that the film took some liberties with the material.

Once in Europa
John Berger
This book is the second in a trilogy about French peasant life. I read the first one, Pig Earth, a while back, before I started recapping things I've read. Each book is a series of vignettes with a common theme. The stories can be a bit harsh, because it turns out that peasant life is harsh. There's a lot of birth and death, with dirt and work in the middle. In an essay about peasants, he defines them as people who are concerned only with survival, because that takes all their time and energy. I think about that definition sometimes when I get too whiny about my first world problems.

This book is about peasants moving to the city to increase their chance of survival by finding jobs. There is nothing particularly French about it. Berger lived in the French countryside, so his inspiration comes from that, but there's no reason these stories couldn't happen anywhere.

Short stories are not my favorite medium. It seems like the story ends before I can get invested in it, and then I don't spend any time thinking about what I read because I'm on to the next story (all my fault, of course). However, I did write down a quote.

"If every event which occurred could be given a name, there would be no need for stories. As things are here, life outstrips our vocabulary. A word is missing and so the story has to be told."

This hits on something that Josh and I talk about a lot - how the limitations of words creates the need for metaphors (or as Berger calls them, stories).

A Series of Unfortunate Events
Lemony Snicket
Covered here.

Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn
This book has been everywhere, it seems. It's hot right now, I guess, which is probably how it ended up on our book club list. I'm going to spoil it, so if you want to read it, maybe skip this section. I ought to put that disclaimer up on all the books, but I guess I'm assuming you're not going out to pick up a copy of Scaramouche (though you should!).

So a dude's wife has gone missing. The first part of the book is interwoven chapters of him reacting to her disappearance and her old journal entries. The result is an interesting portrait of how miscommunication and circumstance can make a marriage go awry. It was interesting as a cautionary tale. I told Josh sadly that I was reading a book about married people who hated each other, and it was bumming me out.

However, the second part of the book just goes off the rails. It is no longer about the slow decline of a once-happy relationship, but about being married to a sociopath. And I was just not as interested in that. However, I no longer felt depressed about a broken relationship, because there are no sociopaths in my marriage, therefore this book is not applicable.

Man's Fate
Andre Malraux
I found this book in Josh's library, one more book that neither of us has ever heard of but apparently we own. We looked up Malraux, and on the basis of his Wikipedia article, I was super stoked to read his book. He sounded like a cool guy.

However, I was disappointed in the book, but I think it's probably my fault. Sometimes, when I am reading a book, I can sorta feel like I'm not getting it. I can follow the plot, but I don't necessarily get the point of the book. Nothing wrong with that, of course, not everyone will get every book right away or even ever. The thing is, I think I didn't get it because I did not read it closely and carefully enough. It's a nasty cycle where I am bored by something because I don't give it the attention it requires, and then my boredom causes me to give it even less attention. I think that's what happened here. I'm embarrassed to admit that it happens a fair amount. However, this is progress. I used to just blame it on the book.

This book is not much about France. It's about China, specifically a failed Communist revolution that happened in Shanghai in 1927. At that point, France had a little part of town that was theirs, called the French Concession. It was sort of like how Hong Kong was part of the United Kingdom before 1999. Just a little piece of France, hanging out in Shanghai. France officially gave up all its concessions in China after WWII in exchange for China pulling out of French Indochina. History is neat.

The book follows several characters who are involved with the revolution - the organizer, an arms dealer, a Russian revolutionary, and a terrorist ("The sons of torture victims make good terrorists." Yeesh.). The title, Man's Fate, refers to death, which Malraux equates with man's dignity. The people's oppressors have taken away their ability to live with dignity, and so their only way to regain it is to die. Each character is fighting something different, even as they are on the same side - the organizer is fighting for the idea of Communism, while the revolutionary is fighting for the actual workers. The terrorist is fighting against the oppressors. These characters face their mortality by trying to make their lives (and deaths) count. However, the arms dealer has no cause greater than himself. He likes to drink and gamble and he sells things to facilitate his lifestyle. And...he survives, while the other characters die in various awful ways (cyanide, boiled alive, and blown up, respectively).

See, now that I've thought it out, I wish I'd paid more attention when reading it. Someday I'll be good at this.

There is a reason that this book is considered one of the best ever. After the apocalypse, when all the copies of Gone Girl have been destroyed and no one's Kindles work anymore, someone will still have a copy of Candide.

This book is terrificially funny and absolutely horrifying. It pokes fun at lots of things (religion, the government, the military, etc), but one target in particular is optimism, the idea that ours is the best of all possible worlds. This idea came from Leibniz (better known to me for independently inventing calculus), who used it to solve the problem of evil in a world created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, and benevolent God (an attempt to solve this problem is known as a theodicy, a word coined by Leibniz). This answer does not sit well with Voltaire, who noticed that if this is the best of all possible worlds, it still sucks a lot of the time. So you have a few characters traipsing through life and really, really, really awful things happen to them. Here's a sample of the awfulness: forced enscription, flogging, war, rape to the point of disembowelment, syphilis, shipwreck, earthquake, tsunami, fire, the Inquisition, torture, being sold into slavery, having a butt cheek cut off to so someone else can eat it...

I'll stop. That is just the first third of the book. I'm sorry that you had to read about all those awful things, but it was Voltaire's fault. Everything is told very matter of factly, as if he were describing a stroll in the woods instead of a life of terribleness. At the end, our hero gives up his philosophy of optimism and takes up gardening, concluding that the world is an awful place and the best you can do is work hard on your own little piece of it.

Despite all the doom and gloom, this really is a marvelous book. The style is similar to Gulliver's Travels - short chapters where the characters have various adventures in far-off lands. And it is really very funny. There's a great scene where Candide is in South America, has killed a priest, and taken his robes. He gets captured by some natives, who are planning on eating him because the missions have been exploiting the locals rather than helping them ("Let us eat a Jesuit!"). But then he tells them he's not a priest, he's just killed one and taken his robes. So he doesn't get eaten, and they all celebrate together.

Well, I thought it was funny.

Claudine at School
This book is the first in a series of Claudine books. Her further adventures, judging by the titles, include going to Paris and getting married and having a friend named Annie. This installment has her telling about her last year in school. She lives in the countryside with her loving, but distracted father who studies mollusks. At fifteen, she straddles the lines between sophisticated and crude, worldly and naive, woman and child. Everyone in the town thinks she is crazy, but mostly it seems like she just doesn't give a crap what the rest of them think. The stories are simple and provincial, the major events being local doings like final exams and a visit from a government minister.

It sounds like a nice little book, right? Like a French cousin of Laura Ingalls Wilder, or something.

Well, it's not quite. There is kind of a lot of lesbian stuff in this book. At first, when Claudine is developing a close friendship with a young female schoolteacher, I just figured all the breathless compliments and hugging and kissing were, I dunno, French or something. But then a couple female schoolteachers start all the hugging and kissing, and later we discover that they share a bed. The book is not erotic or anything, but I was mildly shocked. I think the French reading public of 1900 was, too.

I am not sure if I'm going to explain this very well, but I noticed a difference in the treatment of the relationship in the book and how such a relationship is commonly seen now. Now, we would see two women being together, and say, oh, they're gay, because gay is now an identity that you can claim. You can be gay without even ever having had a same-sex relationship. This was more like a relationship without the identity. There was never an indication that anyone saw these women as being somehow different from other people for being in a same-sex relationship. They just happened to sleep together for now and would probably go off and marry men someday (since there were not a whole lot of options for women anyway). There wasn't a concept of being gay, even if people were doing things that we would say indicated they were gay now. There were no homosexuals (people attracted to the same sex), just homosexual acts (you know). I think there are people who still see it that way now. Some industrious soul has probably already traced the concept of gayness throughout history.

I don't know if that made any sense at all. Anyway.

It's not all scandals, and even the teachers' relationship is told more like gossip (it seems more scandalous that they are open about it, rather than the fact that it happens at all). Claudine makes a charming narrator, quick-witted and daring. My favorite scene may be where she gets bored waiting for a final exam to start and goes and falls asleep in an abandoned courtyard. She comes to the exam late, with twigs in her hair. Oh, that Claudine.

Claudine at School is the first book written by Colette, though it was published under her first husband's name. The books are thought to be autobiographical. My familiarity with her other work extends as far as the movie Gigi, which was also charming and mildly scandalous. I enjoyed reading this book, and I have all four Claudine books in one volume, so I will probably read those, too.



I've had the whole thirteen book set (a tridecalogy!) of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events for a while now. The dark secret was that I'd only read six of them. Nothing makes me feel more like a phony than owning books I haven't read, though I at least had the decency to move them to a shelf upstairs, rather than display them openly, where someone might ask and I'd have to come clean. Being written for children, the books are not difficult, and though each is 200+ pages, between the big print and the widely-spaced lines, it didn't take me long to finish each one.

The premise is that a trio of young siblings, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, having been orphaned by a terrible fire, are taken to live with a guardian. However, they are pursued by the dastardly Count Olaf, who wants nothing more than to get his hands on the children's inheritance. Count Olaf and his vile associates concoct various nefarious schemes to do away with the guardians, who are frequently incompetent or spineless, if not outright evil.

The first six books are pretty formulaic. The orphans get a new guardian. Count Olaf shows up in a disguise that is transparent to the children, but manages to fool all the useless adults who are supposed to protect the children. The children uncover his devious and usually ridiculous scheme, and use their intelligence and resourcefulness to thwart him. Count Olaf gets away to do evil some other day. The end.

The writing style is the real hook here. The author tells you repeatedly that this is really such an awful story and he encourages you to put down the book immediately to read something more pleasant. The back cover of each book is a letter from Snicket to any prospective readers, telling them why they do not want to read the book. The guy is not afraid to take a gimmick to the extreme. For example, in Book 11 (The Grim Grotto), Snicket spends multiple pages describing the water cycle, so as to bore the reader into sleep so that he will not have to read the terrible things that happened to the Baudelaires.

These are books for book nerds; in fact, a oft-repeated idea is that well-read people are less likely to be evil. There are jokes embedded in the text for careful readers.
The book was long, and difficult to read, and Klaus became more and more tired as the night wore on. Occasionally his eyes would close. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He found himself reading the same sentence over and over.
And there are general word jokes. Snicket will use a word, then define it for this very specific context. He will also explain common turns of phrase, so that he can then use it in the course of the book, sometimes in very literal ways. The result is very clever, funny, and frequently absurd.
At this point in the dreadful story I am writing, I must interrupt for a moment and describe something that happened to a good friend of mine named Mr. Sirin. Mr. Sirin was a lepidopterist, a word which usually means "a person who studies butterflies." In this case, however, the word "lepidopterist" means "a man who was being pursued by angry government officials," and on the night I am telling you about they were right on his heels. Mr. Sirin looked back to see how close they were--four officers in their bright-pink uniforms, with small flashlights in their left hands and large nets in their right--and realized that in a moment they would catch up, and arrest him and his six favorite butterflies, which were frantically flapping alongside him. Mr. Sirin did not care much if he was captured--he had been in prison four and a half times over the course of his long and complicated life--but he cared very much about the butterflies. He realized that these six delicate insects would undoubtedly perish in bug prison, where poisonous spiders, stinging bees, and other criminals would rip them to shreds. So, as the secret police closed in, Mr. Sirin opened his mouth as wide as he could and swallowed all six butterflies whole, quickly placing them in the dark but safe confines of his empty stomach. It was not a pleasant feeling to have these six insects living inside him, but Mr. Sirin kept them there for three years, eating only the lightest foods served in prison so as not to crush the insects with a clump of broccoli or a baked potato. When his prison sentence was over, Mr. Sirin burped up the grateful butterflies and resumed his lepidoptery work in a community that was much more friendly to scientists and their specimens.
At which point, he goes on to explain the figurative use of the phrase "butterflies in your stomach."

For all the humor, the subject-matter is dark, dark, dark. I mean, we are starting off with some kids whose idyllic lives have come to an end with the untimely death of their parents, and there is a lot of fire and death to follow. Plus, there is the fact that pretty much every single adult in these books is useless. There are the bad guys, and then there are the well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual guys. The children are repeatedly let down by people that they should be able to rely on for help or protection. In fact, each book seems to illustrate a new way in which other people can let us down.

During the seventh book, the formula breaks. I suppose Mr. Snicket got tired of it. I admit that I was a little tired of it, too. Before Book 7 (The Vile Village), I was determined to make it all the way to the end of the series, at which point I could turn them all into the used book store for credit to buy some other series of children's books that I might enjoy more. But as I continued, I started to think I might be keeping a spot for these on my shelf. And by the time I finished, I was convinced that these books were something amazing and wonderful.

Here, I will take a moment to differentiate between Lemony Snicket and Daniel Handler. Lemony Snicket is the pen name of Daniel Handler. However, sometime after Mr. Handler got bored with writing the same book, one of the ways he changed it up was to make Mr. Snicket a character in the books. From the beginning, Snicket is the storyteller, someone who exists in the same world as the characters and knows about them and is conveying to us what happened. He occasionally talks about himself, such as when he told the story about his friend the lepidopterist. However, at some point, Snicket becomes a character in the story he is writing. He is never an actor in this particular story, the story of the orphans, but he plays in other stories of the world that share many of the same characters.

So after the formula breaks, we start to see some other themes in the books, other than reading is awesome and sometimes grown-ups suck. And I was impressed at the complexity of the ideas being conveyed in these children's books. In Book 10 (The Slippery Slope), the children learn that when fighting evil, you have to be careful not to become evil yourself. Then in Book 11 (The Grim Grotto), they come to the realization that everyone is partly noble and partly wicked, rather than the world being simply divided into good guys and bad guys.
People aren't either wicked or noble. They're like chef's salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.
They later realize this lesson applies not only to themselves, but to their dead parents and the villainous Count Olaf as well.

The last book is very strange, and it's a pretty strange series to begin with. The children manage to escape Count Olaf's clutches for the last time and find a place where they can be safe from the treachery of the world, where the final lesson they learn is that there is no place that is safe from the treachery of the world. And then the story just ends, after a long discourse about beginnings and endings and how you can never know the whole story. The last book was simply magnificent. I was glad that I'd made the commitment to read them all because the payoff was so great.

I have no idea how an actual kid might react to these books. The reading level remains simple, and all the difficult words are explained, but the themes are big. A kid could probably still enjoy reading the books without completely understanding everything, and I don't have a problem with exposing children to big ideas through stories about guys named Count Olaf. That's why we have stories - to enable us to understand life's difficult lessons.

*Note: There is a movie that tells the basic story of the first three books. I haven't seen it in a while, but I recall the tone as being fairly faithful, but ultimately it was a failure. The pacing was frantic, and so much of the enjoyment of the books comes from the word humor, which would be hard to do in a movie in any case.


may showers.

The lady next to me was talking about great it was that they finally had places in Clayton where you could host a nice event like a baby shower. I nodded and smiled, since I don't live in Clayton, nor do I end up hosting very many nice events. She asked me how I knew the new mother, and I said I'd met her at Governor's School. The lady was familiar with Governor's School, and she remarked how she was glad that they'd gotten their state funding back. The woman on the other side of me asked if I knew a friend of hers who had gone the same year as I went. She described him to me, and I smiled and shook my head, explaining that there were 400 kids there and it happened thirteen years ago. She nodded, then told me that he had a goatee.

Thankfully, we played a nursery rhyme game next. And then there was food. Someone mentioned that the baby's father was down the street at a coffee shop (good for you, Clayton), along with a couple of other husbands. And then someone else said that it had been a while since she'd gone to a ladies only shower, and most of the ones she'd been to lately had been co-ed. I was agog. I had never been to a co-ed shower, unless you count the ones that occurred at church, where the men sat off to the side after the potluck and ignored all the actual shower activity. Does having men there make it better? Or are we just dragging them into the misery, ha ha ha, now you sit here and admire a series of blankets, oh aren't they soft. I would have added alcohol before I added men.

A pair of helpers lined up the gifts next to where the mother-to-be was sitting. Aside from being seventh months pregnant, she also had recently broken her ankle, which is some combination of misery that I cannot even imagine. I think I'd be pretty whiny if it were me. My gift bag, sparkly where all the others were soothing, sat at the very end of the queue, right before the grand finale in a giant box wrapped with paper covered with baby monkeys. (Spoiler alert: It was a pack n' play).

As the parade of presents began, a feeling of dread began growing somewhere near where my chicken salad croissant was mingling with a rosemary pear scone. Each package revealed onesies, bottles, diapers, receiving blankets, etc. I was shocked to realize that everyone had given her stuff that was, you know, baby stuff. Everyone cooed at the cuteness and the softness of it all, while I wondered if I could sneak out before she got to my present.

So. You're probably not surprised to find that I did not consult the registry when shopping for this shower. I didn't even look at it, though I did buy a gift card to a store where she was registered. But that was the end of my attempt to follow the rules. Instead, I'm afraid that I went shopping in my house. In the sparkly bag were four things:

  • The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook - I'd recently found a hardback copy, so this was my old copy, which my friend had admired. She collects cookbooks, and this one is especially fun.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass - in one volume, with the original illustrations and everything. A very nice book. Turns out we had four copies of it in the house, and I figured everyone likes Alice. She had already received a copy of some kind of version for babies, which basically consisted of pictures illustrating colors (white rabbit, black shoes, etc). The person who gave it to her made sure to point out that it was not the scary version, by which she meant the actual children's classic.
  • A Wand - bought at an estate sale a couple years ago, this was an officially licensed Harry Potter product. It came in a beautiful box, wrapped with maroon gossamer and set in velvet. Okay, sure, it is just a knobby stick. But when my friend told me she was pregnant, she said it was due at the end of July and referenced the prophecy in the books about the son born in the close of the seventh month. If you don't want dorky gifts, don't make dorky jokes, I guess.
  • A card - signed by both me and Josh. In fact, Josh wrote a poem. A few weeks ago, we had our first big married fight about writing thank you cards. He said he would do some, and then he just never did, and I kinda lost my cool about it. But the morning before the shower, I handed him the card and told him to write them something, like ready set POEM, and he just did it. Lesson learned, I guess. ANYWAY, the card was very nice and it contained the aforementioned gift card.

My ability to gauge this stuff is way off, but it truly did not occur to me that our gift was unorthodox until I sat through all the orthodoxy. I give used gifts all the time, and yes, some of the things I give away were things that were technically mine. I did not buy them for the purpose of giving them to the specific recipient, though I may have bought it because I figured that someone would want it someday, and on that day, I would be prepared. But sometimes, I bought them for me, but later decided I no longer needed. That doesn't mean they're not awesome, right?

No, it was fine. People were intrigued and amused when my gifts were held up for public viewing, and I think I managed to play it like I had not belatedly realized giving a pointed stick to an unborn child was in any way inappropriate. If you are going to buck social mores, you really have to own it. And my friend, the only one who really matters, understands me and Josh and would not want us to be any other way.

And actually, it was a lovely shower. Social occasions just make me grumpy. The food was very good, and the shop, right there in Clayton, was quite nice. The whole shindig was a group effort, put forth by various female family members. It is obvious that this baby is going to be surrounded by love, and as long as someone keeps the wand away from him until he's older, he'll probably turn out fine.


get crafty.

It was a lovely Saturday afternoon when I arrived at the Rowan County Public Library in downtown Salisbury. Outside, the community Touch-A-Truck event was just finishing up. Children walked with their parents, having fulfilled their dreams of being in contact with various trucks. Inside, one of the librarians was hosting a seminar called "Get Crafty!" about crafting with used books. You could probably guess that I was there to rip up books, rather than to touch trucks.

The librarian is a friend of mine who did me a favor and took pictures at the wedding. She thought that members of her community might be interested in making some paper flowers. After the wedding, I shipped her a box of flowers and butterflies that hadn't been taken home by guests. She set them up in the library to advertise the crafting class. People thought they were neat, and some of them came to learn, including a troop of girl scouts.

Is it just me, or is it slightly subversive for the librarian to be teaching crafts made from destroyed books?

She printed out diagrams and instructions for three different crafts: rolled roses, kusudama flowers, and birds. She provided templates, made out of a Diet Dr Pepper carton, to cut out bird parts and square pieces (for the origami). She provided a box of book and magazine pages, sparing her patrons the task of ripping up the books themselves.

I already knew how to make the flowers, so I made a bird out of a poetry book. The body was "Fire and Ice" and the wing was a picture of Robert Frost's head. It was a little weird.

The flowers from the wedding were displayed up front, where a few older ladies discovered and admired the origami lily. Of all the flowers I managed to make, this one was the hardest. That's not to be confused with the origami daffodil, which I never managed to make at all. The librarian had not printed out instructions for the lily, because it would have gone on for pages and pages. But a pair of ambitious women found out that there was someone in the room who knew how to make them, and they descended upon me, bearing 6-inch square magazine sheets.

I was not prepared. I hadn't folded a lily in a month or so. Had you caught me during the first week of March, I could churn them out at a rate of six minutes a flower. But I remembered as I went along, each step jogging my memory for the next. I am not confident about my teaching skills, but I did my best to be patient and encouraging. This is important, since the first few you make always look a little rough. Then I let them take home the one I'd made along with each of them as I showed them the steps. One of them had a granddaughter named Lily. The other turned out to be the mayor of a tiny town down the road. They gave me their email addresses, so I could send them the link with the step-by-step instructions. We talked about different kinds of paper, and how a thicker one would probably work better for this particular flower.

The crafting event was only supposed to last until 2 pm. By 2:45, it was me and an old lady, finishing up our lilies, the girl scouts long gone. She thanked me for staying to help her, and I told her that the crafting event had been my only plan for the day. I couldn't have imagined that my day would've included teaching origami to the mayor of Granite Quarry, but life's funny like that sometimes.



A friend was telling me about a recent divorce.  His ex-wife has taken up with someone else, but since he has, too, maybe that's not such a big deal.  The worst of it is she lets the new man's dog in the house.  This, after years of denying her own husband's hunting dog entrance.

To me, this sounds like entrenchment.  Maybe a long time ago, the wife legitimately did not want the dog in the house, for whatever reason.  It was a big dog, or not quite house-trained, or too rambunctious, or she grew up in a home where they did not have animals in the house.  There are good reasons for not wanting a dog in the house.  And then later, she retained her position because she had made it.  She did not start all over asking herself whether the dog could come into the house, because she'd already answered the question.  She'd said no.  Why were they even still fighting about this?

Later, after her marriage was over, a new man asked if a new dog could come into the house.  She thought about the question of a dog in the house anew, and she came to a different conclusion than before.  She didn't see why not, and it turned out to not be a problem.  Maybe she thought back and realized that she could've let her ex's dog in the house, or maybe she didn't see what one had to do with the other.

I don't know any more about this story other than wife says no to husband's dog, later says yes to a new man's dog.  Maybe there's a lot more to it.  I've never met the ex-wife, the new man, or either of the dogs.  But I am familiar with entrenchment.  I know about holding on to a position when I should've revisited my decision instead.  I know about feeling incensed that the question is even still being asked.  I know about coming to a conclusion based on an initial gut reaction and then not changing it when I have more information or experience.  I know about having the same fight over and over, even if it isn't even the same fight anymore.  I know about thinking that I know what someone is going to say and therefore not listening.

I know about being my absolute worst self around the person I love the most.

I do not know an easy way to avoid entrenchment, other than to keep trying.  Keep talking and keep listening.


may the fourth.

Thursday night, we were sitting on the sidewalk in front of a bar, waiting for the opening band to finish. Josh and his friends were writing poetry, and I was alternately reading Scaramouche and trying to take artsy pictures of our beers. Dave came out and started talking about the house party that the band was supposed to play on Saturday night. It was rumored to be ragin'.

Josh pointed out that he had to work Saturday night until 10. I listened casually, affecting disinterest and resisting the urge to yell, "What house party?" I am always the last to know. Instead, I waited until later, when I asked Josh for more information. He did not know where it was to be held, nor whether they were even playing. I guess it would be more irritating if he were withholding information from me, but it seems like he never knows what's going on either.

Saturday evening, Josh was headed to work, and he still did not know where this party was happening or whether we'd be required to go. House parties tend to get shut down, due to occupants of other houses nearby who are not interested in all the ragin'. If Josh wasn't going to get off work until 10, and city ordinances required quiet after 11, it didn't seem likely that this party was going to be in our future. But I prepared myself for either a nice evening of snuggling or for tolerating drunk people.

He called at 10:05 to tell me that he was on his way home, and then it was time to rage. As we congregated in the foyer, Trevor mentioned it was a Star Wars costume party. We looked at each other, all more appropriately attired for a Slacker Costume Party. Josh went and fetched the Storm Trooper helmet we'd bought at Goodwill and used to scare the dog. Trevor pointed out that we might not see it again, and Josh said that was the intention. Trev wondered why they were having a Star Wars party, and Josh answered that it was May 4, Star Wars Day. As in, May the Fourth be with you.


Josh told me I didn't have to go, and I seriously considered it. I considered it as I walked to the van, and I considered it as we drove down our street. Each moment that passed, I couldn't have told you whether or not the next moment would be the one where I told them to turn around and take me back to my pajamas and my dog and the ice cream in the freezer. As we turned onto the main road, I knew that I was committed for the evening.

The party was in south Raleigh. We had to drive through a bad neighborhood to get there, but the party area itself seemed safe. We circled the block to find parking, as both sides of the street were full. It was not hard to find the house. It was the only one that was ragin'.

As we strolled up to the porch, a Jedi and Darth Maul asked for our IDs and $8. It would have been $5 had we been wearing costumes. They said they were raising money for something, though we were never clear on what. Trevor said we were the band, and I allowed them to think that included me. Josh gave the guy working the door the Storm Trooper helmet. We all got wrist bands.

As we went into the house, the first thing I saw was a guy with a live snake around his wrist watching The Empire Strikes Back. Into the next room, where a quartet was playing some kind of drinking Battleship game made with cardboard. I couldn't see into the backyard, as the door was blocked by partygoers, and the window was blocked by an 8-foot-tall inflatable can of PBR. Finally, we made it outside, and it was a thing to behold.

To the right of the porch was a huge tent, where a band was playing. Set up next to the band was an outdoor living room - three couches set up around a hookah pipe on a coffee table. Based on the odor, the pipe was filled with tobacco, possibly strawberry flavored. Beyond that was a huge bonfire, where Ewoks and various hooded figures and about ten Han Solos stood around with red Solo cups. Then there was a trampoline, something that you should probably not have anywhere near a.) a bonfire, b.) drunk people, or c.) drunk people standing around a bonfire. To the left of the trampoline was a woman twirling fire. Next to that, there was a short bus. Inside was a sub-party, where people sat on bean bag chairs and had dance music blared at them. The bus had a platform built on top, where you could climb up and survey the party domain. You could take the ladder down, or you could slide down the pole which had been attached to a lower platform that came out from the emergency exit of the bus. Finally, there was another tent, where you could get a beer from the keg or something red called Jedi Juice.  Christmas lights were strung from tent to bus and back.

So I hadn't wanted to come, and I still didn't want to stay very long, but this here was a house party to behold. I do not understand the desire to throw a party in one's home, but I am thankful that some people do feel that desire, so that I may go to their parties if I wish.

It was 11:20, and the live music had to be done at midnight, when the DJ was scheduled to go on, because this was the kind of party where they check ID and have a band schedule. It was unclear whether the current band, who had only been playing for twenty minutes or so, would cede the stage to Josh and his bandmates. We asked Dave, who told a long story about talking to the other band about playing, the end of which was the revelation that he didn't know either. He'd gotten into the Jedi Juice. But we brought in the gear anyway, then walked around the party for a while.

Han Solo seemed to be the most popular costume choice, which makes sense because it's easy, and he's the coolest. There were Leias in every incarnation, the more bold women going with the gold bikini, of course. A few guys just wore their bathrobes, either being Jedis or Jawas or maybe just Lando on his day off. There were some scantily-clad Ewoks in Ugg boots. I did not see any Luke Skywalkers, though there was a guy who was walking around in some kind of dinosaur mascot costume. I guess when you have that kind of costume, you wear it whenever you can.

The band played. I watched and talked to some people I knew. The music stopped promptly at midnight.

As we were loading the equipment back into the van, a police car rolled up. The guys running the door ran inside to find whoever was in charge, who turned out to be Han Solo. The cop talked a while with Han and ended up giving him a warning. Han promised that the officer would not need to come back. The officer expressed his doubt.

We went back in to make our goodbyes. Return of the Jedi had just started. Lots of people clucked at us for leaving so early and accused Josh of having gotten lame since he got married. Someone enthusastically encouraged us to have some Jedi Juice. Across the yard, a woman in the outdoor living room was playing with our Storm Trooper helmet. A lot of other people were making their way out, too - between the end of the live music and the first appearance of the five-oh, I guess people were ready to move on. But as we walked down the street towards the van, a trickle of new people were coming in, carrying twelve-packs and wearing clothes that may or may not have originated in a galaxy far, far away.

We went home, ate ice cream, and watched Return of the Jedi. May the Fourth be with you.


nice lady.

I got my hair cut by a lady named Sunshine. I asked her lots of questions about it, because I'm fascinated by names. She said the biggest irritation about such a name was that people expect you to be cheerful all the time. No one is cheerful all the time.

She was cheerful enough the day I sat in her chair, though she pretended to cry about the 6 inches of my hair on the floor. I think it was for my sake, like she expected me to be sad or at least torn about chopping off so much work. I was not distraught. The last time I grew my hair long, I figured out that long hair was not my thing. But then I grew it out again for the wedding, or maybe I was just too lazy to cut it. In any case, by the end of our appointment, Sunshine was not mourning my hair anymore.

I am either a terrible customer or a great one, I can't decide. I go in there and tell them how much to cut off, but that's really my only instruction. I told Sunshine that I wanted it about shoulder-length, and then I said, "Just make it look good." I get different reactions to my lack of instructions. Some of them look stricken. But others, like Sunshine, react like they wish everyone would come in and let the experts decide.

Sunshine had very strong anti-layer feeling. I've been getting layers cut into my hair since I discovered the concept, which was probably fifteen years ago. Layers were a revelation to me. My hair is not naturally voluminous, but layers were the way to fake it. Sunshine told me she was just going to cut straight across, then launched into a not-cheerful spiel about over-layering. I was nervous about going layerless, but I decided to trust in Sunshine. Maybe it was time for a change.

The best part about going from long to short is when you run your fingers through your hair and you unexpectedly run out of hair. Ahh, much better.

That evening, I was a little ambivalent about my hair. There was nothing wrong with the cut, and I've had cuts where something was actually wrong. But somehow the style - straight cut, parted to the side - felt too no-frills. I felt certain that this haircut was giving away to the world that I no longer cared about how I looked, like I was not even trying to be attractive.

It was a married lady haircut.

That night, when Josh came home from work, he passed his husband test by noticing that I had gotten my hair cut. His next comment was that he preferred my hair long (really? First I've heard of it). But he said he didn't care what I did with my hair, as long as I "still looked like a nice lady."

A nice lady. If that isn't the unsexiest thing I've ever heard. A nice lady. Someone completely sexless and non-threatening, who might help you find the cheesecloth in the grocery store. He said "nice," but I heard "old." Turning thirty didn't bother me, but cut the layers out of my hair and I have a little crisis. Yeesh. It's a good thing I married a man who is into nice ladies.

As a note, the few times I have had to buy cheesecloth, I was able to find it at Food Lion. It was a little tricky, though, because it was on one one of those hangers that stick out in the aisles, rather than being in any particular section. You could always ask someone at the store to help you, preferably someone with a non-threatening haircut.