Archive for the ‘Ramblings’ Category

This week was the first Shakespeare Week in the UK, a nationwide deal where they try to bring the big guy’s works to life for elementary kids, a terrific idea and a tricky thing to do. Hell, it’s hard to bring Shakespeare to life for grownups; that’s when you get the faux-important approach, simply reading lines out in posh accents and hoping it looks intelligent. Here’s what it looks like when a brilliant pair of actors really speak the words as though they’re just talking to each other. (Kenneth Branagh has just been set up by his friends, who have told him Emma Thompson is in love with him)

Stunt casting can help keep viewers’ attention — who doesn’t want to watch more of Catherine Tate being snarky and David Tennant doing, you know, anything? But so little of the comedy here has anything to do with Shakespeare’s words. Tennant wears a Superman T-shirt and bumbles around the stage — quite charmingly, but it’s just that: charming slapstick. Same scene:

It’s very funny, but they’re cheating. They barely try to make the big wodges of Elizabethan understandable, just play the funny lines we can all get, then shovel the hard bits out the sides of their mouths to get to the next gag. As a way to get young people to watch, it’s not bad. But you never really get to meet Beatrice and Benedick. How are you supposed to care later when they’re forced to admit they’re in love?

The epitome of the stunt-cast and faux-important approaches is “Shakespeare in Love,” which contains 0% true Shakespeare, just some pretty people, posh accents (some quite fake indeed) and a few gags on the level of “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter,” for God’s sake.

Puke. Shakespeare isn’t sexy Joseph Fiennes leaping in and out of boats. He’s a 32-year-old father of three when he writes “R&J” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a middle-aged businessman imagining himself back into the hot tights of a teenager and imagining himself into the mind of a short brunette who is furious with a tall blonde for taking her boyfriend. They’ve been friends since they were in school together, these women, and they don’t understand at all what has just happened to them.

The next clip, of those two women in an epic catfight, is the actual moment I fell in love with Shakespeare.

I was ten years old and saw it on PBS. Yes, it’s the 1980s so the hair is floppy, and yes they play some of it broadly. But watch what they’re not doing: skipping the hard words. They’re making them work. Watch Helena get through that speech about her and Hermia as schoolgirls, a block of almost incomprehensible English. It’s like trying to convey emotions in Martian.

But it sets up how betrayed both women feel, and sets up that perfect payoff, a comedy catfight with real human love and pain underneath it.

So playing Shakespeare today requires actors to communicate really hard, and the modern viewer’s experience is different from the groundling’s, but there’s a different payoff too.

If you follow all the parts, the hard bits and the Elizabethan impenetrability and so on, then when you see that moment, a phrase or a joke or a feeling that skips over the centuries in between, it springs out with total clarity no archaeologist can dig up: Four hundred years ago, a person felt exactly the same way you did when their heart broke.

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Pantone2Earlier this month Pantone selected its Color of the Year for 2014: “Radiant Orchid,” or 18-3224 in the Pantone color-specifying system that prevents designers from having to say, “It’s a kind of purpley lavender… No, not that bright.”

This business of selecting colors may strike normal people as complete horse hockey, but I am pretty sure if you are in charge of telling Kitchenaid what colors to spin up in its new manufacturing lines, you want some research on your side. Here’s one of the Fresh New Colors they rolled out in March 2013 (kitchenaid.com photo):

Saks Fifth Avenue has already “invested” in orchid, the AP said in a story that quoted their senior fashion director.

Though I pay more attention to color than to fashion, even I saw a fair number of purses and such appear in 2011’s honeysuckle. There are young women traversing campuses in tangerine (2012) skinny jeans now. And a few years earlier I think Pantone predicted the wave of chocolate-brown-plus-pale-blue that swept through home decor (at least around here).

How they pick the Color of the Year, according to their press release:

Pantone quite literally combs the world looking for color influences. This can include the entertainment industry and films that are in production, traveling art collections, hot new artists, popular travel destinations and other socio-economic conditions. Influences may also stem from technology, availability of new textures and effects that impact color, and even upcoming sports events that capture worldwide attention.

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Recently did a quickie personality quiz that seems to be a not-bad “lite” version of Myers Briggs. I’ve been Myers-Briggsed before more thoroughly, but as with reading a literary work, it seems you get something different out of the experience every time you come at it, depending on where you are in your life at that moment.

This time I found it useful for pointing out my failings in a very cushioned way — damned nearly obsequious, in fact. If you are an Internet psychology quiz, it probably behooves you not to insult the people who are reading their results, so I see why it might couch everything in flattering terms. Heck, that might be why I actually read all the results this time (see Weakness No. 1, below).

Short version: Seems like a good quiz and my results were accurate enough that I’m preserving them here for reference because I want to see if reviewing my faults AS A PART of my overall personality allows me to work on them without getting into a ball of despair about my lack of willpower and other moral failings (see Weaknesses Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 1, below).

This does not entirely fit me (I’m known for camping inside my comfort zone for years on end, etc., and “popular and friendly” makes me cringe, but anybody with 2,000 Twitter cohorts probably ought to just shut up and go “OK” at this point). But some parts are frighteningly dead on (“small talk”!) and there are undoubtedly other things here that explain the difficulties my loved ones have been coping with for years.

And as I say, my hope is that viewing my own flaws as part of a more-or-less integrated whole will allow me to go, “OK, I don’t like that part of myself, but it comes with this part I do like, so maybe I quit beating myself up for lacking moral fiber and just get on with balancing the checkbook.”

ENFP strengths

  • Observant. ENFP personalities believe that there are no irrelevant details or actions. They try to notice everything, seeing all events as part of a big, mysterious puzzle called life.
  • Very popular and friendly. ENFPs are altruistic and cooperative, doing their best to be empathic and friendly in every situation. They can get along with nearly everyone and usually have a large circle of friends and acquaintances.
  • Energetic and enthusiastic. ENFPs are always eager to share their ideas with other people and get their opinions in return. Their enthusiasm is contagious and very inspiring at the same time.
  • Know how to relax. People with this personality type know how to switch off and have fun, simply experiencing life and everything it has to offer. Their wild bursts of enthusiastic energy can often surprise even their closest friends.
  • Excellent communicators. ENFPs tend to have great people skills, and they instantly know how to present their ideas in a convincing way. They can handle both small talk and deep, meaningful conversations, although the ENFP’s definition of small talk may be somewhat unusual—they will steer the conversation toward ideas rather than weather, gossip, etc.
  • Curious. ENFPs are very imaginative and open-minded. They enjoy trying out new things and do not hesitate to go outside their comfort zone if necessary.

ENFP weaknesses

  • Highly emotional. ENFP personalities tend to have very intense emotions, seeing them as an inseparable part of their identity. This may often cause the ENFP to react strongly to criticism, conflicts, or tension.
  • May have poor practical skills. ENFPs are brilliant when it comes to solving problems, creating processes, or initiating projects (especially if they involve other people). However, they are likely to find it difficult to follow through and deal with the practical, administrative side of things.
  • Overthink things. ENFPs always look for hidden motives and tend to overthink even the simplest things, constantly asking themselves why someone did what they did and what that might mean.
  • Get stressed easily. ENFPs are very sensitive and care deeply about other people’s feelings. This can cause them a lot of stress sometimes: people often look to them for guidance and encouragement, and the ENFP cannot always say “yes.”
  • Find it difficult to focus. People with the ENFP personality type lose interest quickly if their project shifts toward routine, administrative matters. They may not be able to stop their mind from wandering off.
  • Very independent. ENFPs loathe being micromanaged or restrained by rules and guidelines. They want to be seen as highly independent individuals, masters of their own fates.

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Lately I’ve been trying to simplify and automate a lot of tasks, and I keep thinking of this quote:

“I’m trying to develop a lifestyle that doesn’t require my presence.”

Yes! If everything could keep humming along while I took a week-long nap …

This quote, or a version of it, is attributed all over the Intertubes to “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau. But we might have another great thinker to thank: Kinky Friedman.

The farthest back I could track Trudeau’s quote was two articles from October 1990 — the 20th anniversary of “Doonesbury” — saying he’d used the phrase in the 1980s: ” ‘I’ve been trying to develop a lifestyle that doesn’t require my presence,’ he’d say.”

In 1986, when Friedman sidelined his music for a bit to write mystery novels, the phrase pops up in a couple news stories, e.g. “I’ve always talked about finding a life style that didn’t require my presence and I think that writing novels is it.”

I’m not aiming to call either one a plagiarist; hell, maybe they both got it from Mark Twain for all I know. Just thought I’d give Kinky a shot at cropping up in the Google results, too.

Socrates got into this blog post because he, presumably, originated another sentiment I love:

ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστον βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ.

Or as it’s more often put: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

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Back in 2007, Michael Winterbottom filmed parts of a movie in and around Austin. The film was “A Mighty Heart,” in which Angelina Jolie plays the wife of kidnapped journalist Daniel Pearl, and the Austin American-Statesman co-stars as a Wall Street Journal bureau.

Us Statesfolk were reminiscing about this last week, and I thought y’all might like to see the pics too. No Jolie — she wasn’t part of the very quick scene filmed here.

Everyone I can identify in this shot is a Statesman staffer except the guy standing up, who’s an actor (which you can tell because he’s wearing a TIE!). Colleagues observed that the film crew could have straightened our blinds, but probably thought they looked authentically sloppy. In fact nothing here was staged; this is exactly how it looks, except of course the trees outside are usually leafy. Coworkers also noticed that the cryptic sign on the column in back made it into the film — if you squint you can see it says “WHO-GAS,” the slogan of a former editor reminding us to focus on what’s important to our readers, aka WHO Gives A … toss. As an indicator of how often we clean and redecorate the newsroom, the sign is still taped to that column right now.

And the chair underneath the word “Journal” is where I sit! It is not, alas, where I sat in 2007, although I was in the newsroom during the shoot, over in Features — which is the backdrop for this shot:

Those are also real Statesbeings behind him. My desk, with me sitting at it, is approximately behind his right ear 🙂  We all got paid something like $28.62 after taxes, so that was kind of exciting. Should you happen to still be reading (hi! and thank you!), you’ve now spent more time looking at these photos than the Statesman spends onscreen in the film. Fame, how it fleets.

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[Disclaimer: This is NOT official medical, legal or any-other-al advice and I’m not any kind of expert. See full disclaimer below.]

By the way, a great tool for getting into annoying plastic packaging is tin snips.

What to do when a compact fluorescent bulb breaks? CFLs contain mercury and other bad stuff, and I’d heard everything from “It’s no big deal” to “Evacuate and quarantine immediately!” When one fell out of a light fixture and broke on my front porch, I called a hazardous waste cleaning company to ask advice. Actually I was hoping I could slide somebody $50 to break out their hazmat suit and come sweep the porch, but this particular company doesn’t handle cleanups that small.

Advice, however, they did give me. It sounded so practical I thought I’d share it, combined with some EPA tips. So, when a CFL bulb breaks:

Get the hell away from it. The moment it first breaks is when the mercury vapor is most concentrated. Don’t suck it in, and don’t let anybody else breathe it, either.

Air out the place and keep people and critters away while you do. Turn off the heat/AC, open up the windows and stick a fan in there. The EPA says to give it 5-10 minutes; others say 15 or longer.

Check the bulb maker’s website for tips (bulb types change over time). Or call 211 for advice.

Prepare for cleanup. You want to avoid getting cut by phosphor-coated glass and use disposable tools where possible. The guy I was talking to said if he mopped the area, he would throw away the mop; the EPA seems a little more relaxed about this.

      • DON’T vacuum first. Get as much glass up as you can other ways.
      • Personally, I want some kind of hand covering — nitrile gloves or plastic bags, maybe.
      • Cardboard/stiff paper helps you scoop glass shards into a…
      • … solid plastic container that’s sealable. (Not a bag, which the glass can shred.)
      • Duct tape helps pick tiny pieces out of carpet or off a hard surface.
      • Damp paper towels also help on hard surfaces.
      • A strong HEPA-filter vacuum is best, and a disposable filter helps too. When done, take the vac outside, plug it in and run it in the fresh air for a little bit.
      • Dump your tape, paper towels, cardboard, filter, etc. into the sealable container and, er, seal it.

Call 211 to find out how to dispose of it.

I’ll refrain from naming the company I talked to because I didn’t decide to blog this until after we got off the phone, so they were not speaking for publication. But it was great to chat with an expert about this for a few minutes, and it yielded tips I hadn’t heard before. Happy mopping, y’all.

Full disclaimer: This is NOT official medical, legal or other advice, and I am just an ordinary mook of a homeowner. When it comes to your own and your family’s safety, take whatever actions you think best.


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Thanks to the website Jezebel.com, which I highly recommend unless you dislike occasional comic vulgarity, twice recently I’ve come across the term “gaslighting.” In reading up on it, I’ve decided that it’s a term that should be known to everybody who’s ever heard, and everybody who’s ever said, “You’re too sensitive. You’re overreacting. You’re just making too much out of this! What are you talking about? You’re imagining things, and I personally don’t appreciate it when you come at me with these made-up accusations.”

Or even, “It’s things like this that make me not want to be around you. You have a real problem, you know. You might even need help. It’s hard to deal with you when you’re like this.”

“Gaslight” is a 1944 movie in which Charles Boyer slowly convinces Ingrid Bergman that she can’t trust her own eyes and her own judgment — that she’s crazy.  In his case, he’s carrying on illicit activities in the attic, and when he turns on the lights up there, the gas lights in the rest of the house dim. He convinces her that she’s imagining it… that the lights really aren’t getting dimmer… and it goes from there.

So the term “gaslighting” has been used to label a form of emotional abuse in which one person manipulates another to believe that she* is the problem, that she’s unreasonable or even crazy. Milder versions, though, happen every day, without us even noticing them.

Boiled to its essence, “gaslighting” is the act of making another person doubt herself in order to make yourself feel better. Ever told somebody, “You can’t be serious!” “You’re making this out to be worse than it is.” “You’re being ridiculous.” “You’re overreacting.”

OK, sure, most of us have. But if we remember how we felt at that moment, and we do it honestly, were we mostly feeling uncomfortable? Squeamish? A little guilty, maybe, or simply angry? Did we feel better after putting the other person down? A little relieved? Whew, that was close. But I’m right and she’s wrong, so it’s all OK.

A rational question to ask is, “But what if she really IS too sensitive?” And certainly there’s no doubt that our society is overpopulated with folks who lash out unreasonably at small provocations.

Here’s the answer, though: There are very few circumstances in which a normally empathetic person would tell another person, “You’re just too sensitive.”

That means most of the time you hear that statement, it’s coming from someone who is trying to make the other person doubt herself.  In order to make himself feel better.

Because he’s getting uncomfortable — maybe nervous that he might be wrong or might look bad, or maybe he’s used to always being the dominant person in the conversation, or a dozen other reasons.  And it’s probably an instinctive reaction, rather than a conscious effort to control her.

But that’s exactly what it usually is: an effort to control.  Manipulation, not honesty.  And it’s very rarely the response of a caring or loving person.

Imagine what words that caring or loving person would be likely to say.  Different, right?  Now stand up, walk away, and go find him.

* For simplicity’s sake, I’m using “he” for the manipulator and “she” for the subject of the abuse. It’s a stereotype, for which I apologize, but it’s also the most common scenario in this form of manipulation. Call it equal time for decades of jokes in which gossipy, emotional binge shoppers are always a “her.” But please know that I am fully aware there are many, many men to whom this doesn’t apply — thank God — many men to whom demeaning another person would not even occur as a possible course of action. A couple who happen to leap to mind are named Gerald, Matt, Ponch, Joe, Rick, Adrian, Andy, Darius, Chris, Robert, Todd, Kyle and probably YOU, if you’re a friend of mine who is still reading this post down to the footnotes. I love you guys, and I always will.

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