frogg files

"She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." --Flannery O' Connor

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Untitled

In just a few more days, the frogg files will be two whole years old.

Who would've thought?

I'm trying to remember where I was at just this time two years ago, September 30, 2004. I believe I was in Egypt, my last night there after a three-week sojourn in the Middle East. I believe I was at a restaurant with my friends, having a last "Egyptian" meal before we all went our separate ways, back to our own countries. I believe I was wishing we'd opted to go to someplace like Chili's instead, because oh Lord, I was so sick of pita bread by that time, and nearly choked on every bite.

I believe I was a little broken-hearted.

Sometimes, I will get these odd flash-backs to places I've traveled. I'll be walking along the street and suddenly I will smell a certain aroma, like washing detergent, and I'll see myself walking along a broken sidewalk down to the outdoor laundromat we went to in Bangkok, when we finally got sick of washing our clothes by hand. Sometimes, I will crawl into bed, and for a fleeting moment my mind will be filled with a flashing stretch of sea alongside a black, rugged beach on Auckland's west coast. Sometimes, I will have a sudden vision of the crowded streets of Cairo, and a woman I passed by, who was sitting against a wall near Old Cairo's markets, with a tear running down her cheek.

Sometimes, I'll think of the morning when I caught the sunrise as it glinted off the golden Dome of the Rock behind the walls of Old Jerusalem.

It's not just that I've left pieces of my heart in all these places. I think they left pieces of themselves in me, too.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Battle of the Sexes: Who Writes Better Romance?

An interesting article in the Telegraph, (courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily), all about who is better at writing romantic literature: women or men?

The argument was apparently sparked by BBC television personality Daisy Goodwin saying that men "...don't figure very largely as writers in the romantic fiction pantheon", as she puts it on her website. She continues:

Am I wrong? I'm thinking of Jane Eyre and Rochester, Cathy and Heathcliff and so on, as well as the broader field of popular romantic fiction. Of course there are many men writing amazing love poetry, but I can't think of many male prose writers whose work I would term "romance".

I considered the question for myself after reading both sides of the argument presented in the Telegraph piece--which, not too creatively, were put forward by a man, Ray Connolly, defending men and a woman, Liz Hunt, defending women. (I would have been intrigued to see the opposite, or perhaps better yet, one of each gender on each side. But, as usual, no one asked me. Sigh...)

As far as I could see, Hunt's argument boiled down to the simple fact that women make romance the center of the story, whereas for men, the larger story carries an equal, if not greater, level of importance. Specifically, she writes:

...too often male writers get caught up in the story – "Events, dear boy, events" – whereas women writers better understand that they must keep the romance central, that it drives a narrative better and faster than any other device. For women, it is the ultimate reason to turn a page.

I don't know if it's just a native contrariness that makes my hackles rise at that last sentence, but as soon as I read it, I began thinking of other books that I deemed "page-turners" and how few of them were necessarily because I wanted to know the outcome of a romantic relationship. Today, for instance, I couldn't stop reading The House of Sand and Fog, and believe me, the "romance" in that book was, well, questionable. What drove me to keep reading was the escalating tension, the very separate worlds of the groups of characters moving inexorably toward each other until they collided with fatal force.

In my mind, the reason to turn the page hinges on the nature of the conflict presented in the story. That conflict, if the book is a romance, will necessarily involve the two people caught up in their love for each other, but the story will necessarily be bigger than the two of them. Otherwise, one may just as well pick up the Harlequin, right?

Hunt further damaged her case with this incriminating paragraph:

The Da Vinci Code, though thinly written (by a man), was attention-grabbing enough with its mutilated curator and self-flagellating albino monk, but I persevered with it because – I'm ashamed to admit – I was curious to find out what would happen between the hero Robert Langdon and his sidekick Sophie Neveu.

Is she kidding? That was absolutely the LAST reason I persevered with that book. Why? Because there was so clearly NO romantic chemistry between those characters anywhere in the pages. There were about as many sparks flying between Langdon and Sophie as there are on a dud firecracker. Give me a break.

In this case, I have to side with the man, Ray Connolly. Mostly because I just can't swallow the sort of wild generalization that Goodwin (and Hunt, by defending her) embraces. Connolly is right to point out that Goodwin "really is talking through a prism of prejudice and stereotype." He concludes:

It seems to me that we're all romantics, and the idea that one sex is simply emotionally incapable of understanding the way the other thinks is to deny everything men and women share – and, worryingly from a creative point of view, to deny all authors the possibility of understanding anyone of the opposite sex. And I can't believe that.

I agree. Who cares if romance isn't at the center of a story, or if it is? What makes "romantic" literature romantic is far more than the question of "is the boy going to get the girl" or vice versa. Romantic literature is about love and loss and possibility and missed opportunities and sometimes, the world and its circumstances are a participant in the story of necessity, because history and its events conspire against love and possibility in all sorts of ways, when they are not being complicit in it. A good writer of romance, man or woman, will understand this and write accordingly.

And a bad writer of romance will take refuge in the smoky pools of a rich, devastatingly beautiful Contessa's eyes, tucked away between Fabio-laden covers.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I Finally Have A Goal In Life

I have a new mission, a new reason for existence.

Someday I want to be on the American Library Association's Banned or Challenged Books List. Because being controversial never goes out of style. In fact, it seems like just about everyone who IS anyone is doing it!

I found out yesterday that this week is Banned Books Week, and in between bouts of work I've been perusing the lists of Banned/Challenged Books over the years. The ALA's Web site defines "challenges" as ...formal, written complaints filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.

For those of you wondering what the difference is between a challenge and a banning, the ALA has more helpful information:

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. The positive message of Banned Books Week: Free People Read Freely is that due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.

I am intrigued by some of the books mentioned on the ALA's site. Huckleberry Finn is fifth on the list of Top 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-1999. I actually don't care for that book much, so even though I'm against censorship, I wouldn't really have cried if it had been taken off of my curriculum, back when I was in school.

(Oh, but wait. If I never read it, how would I know I didn't like it? Hmmm, a quandary.)

Moving on, I note that Madeleine L'Engel's fantastic novel A Wrinkle in Time is only a little further down on the same list as good ol' Huck. Strange, I guess people have a thing about stories where good battles against evil and imaginary characters abound.

Then there's The Giver, by Lois Lowry, which I believe my Aunt B told me was a "great book" when she encouraged me to read it a couple years ago. Sowing the seeds of rebellion as usual, eh, Aunt B?

By the way, To Kill A Mockingbird and Brave New World? Also on the list. Oh, those wacky, rabble-rousing social-commentary authors! Trying to raise our awareness and sense of conscience! Take them away!!

For the 21st Century, apparently we should all steer clear of the "Captain Underpants" series, and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou.

I know what you are all thinking. There's a series called Captain Underpants?? Shame knows no bounds.

But please, let's not get distracted from the main attraction! Join me in applauding the most frequently challenged book of the still-young 21st century (drum roll please)... The Harry Potter series!

I am probably one of the few people on the planet who still has not read a single one of the Harry Potter books. And it's not because I have an issue with the themes, or the characters, or anything. I just never got interested.

Oh well. I like being anomalous. Especially if I can't be controversial.

Yet.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Void

A co-worker of mine passed away on Friday night. He was 33 years old.

It all happened so fast. I can hardly believe he's gone. It was only 5-6 weeks ago that he started feeling sick.

He went to the doctor, and they kept him in the hospital. They ran tests, and the next thing I heard, he had started chemo. Advanced lymphoma...

On Monday of last week, they let him go home, and from all accounts that I heard, he was doing well--or at least, the doctors seemed optimistic. But on Wednesday, he was back in the hospital. And on Friday night... he died.

I wouldn't say I was close to him. We joked around and chatted at work every now and then, but that's about it. Still, I'll miss him. And when I get to work later this morning, I'll see the silly little note he scrawled for me one day, and which I taped up in my cubicle: "Proofreaders fight the war on error."

I'll smile, but I'll be a little sad, too.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I Love The Smell Of Sulfur In The Morning...

So, the Venezuelan president, Mr. Hugo "El Lococito" Chavez, had some choice words for President Bush at the U.N. this week. Calling Bush "the devil," he said that he could still "smell sulfur" at the podium the day after Bush's U.N. address.

Personally, I think maybe Bush just had a few too many beans in his breakfast burrito, or something. The idea that he could be the Angel of Darkness incarnate, masquerading as a long, tall Texan with a speech impediment (elpublico nilcomprenditis, I believe it's called) is tantalizing on so many levels, but I reluctantly admit it's unlikely.

Sigh.

I was actually quite irritated by El Lococito's remarks, because he has forced me into the position of defending a man (Bush) that I don't even like. But for all my criticism of our current administration, I find it appalling and reprehensible that a foreign leader would come to a solemn assembly of the United Nations and viciously insult the host nation's president--our president--in front of the rest of the world.

To call his behavior "unprofessional" is an understatement on a par with calling Vietnam a "skirmish."

Not to mention the utter irony of people like Chavez and, God help us, Ahmaisndgagkhjhasdbgebd, or however you spell the name of Mr. "I Am A Logical, Reasonable Man Who Loves Everyone, So Don't Take It The Wrong Way When I Say 'Death To America!'" Iranian president, calling Bush on the carpet for being a tyrant and a dictator and flouting human rights all over the place.

Is Venezuela or Iran such a beacon of democratic light that they can really pretend to shine the beams of their enlightenment on our woefully benighted society? Please.

But perhaps I am being uncharitable. Maybe these two vitriolic psychos (El Lococito and Mr. Nuclear Love) just need to take a break from all their efforts at inducing the birth pangs of World War III and come chill out on the west coast for a bit. Have a margarita, kick back on the golden beaches, and watch a pretty sunset. Get a new perspective. Maybe they'll even try surfing!

Hopefully without any napalm or valkyries to accompany them...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Arrrrrrrre You Ready...

...for International Talk Like A Pirate Day?

Well, be ye ready or no, 'tis a day that has crept upon ye like a scurvy knave on a black night! Aye, me hearties--today be the day when English grammar be thrown to the four winds of the seven seas!

But if it be lessons ye're needin', on how to speak like a proper miscreant pirate wretch, sail on over to this video and watch Cap'n Slappy and Ol' Chumbucket pontificate on the finer points of pirate language. Such as, the meaning of "Ahoy!" (trans: "Hello!")

Yo ho ho!

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Study in Surreality

I received an e-mail from my brother the pod person today, an e-mail that went out to all my brothers and sisters as well, which had the simple subject line, "just thought you should all know." Here's what it said:

"i am a lebanese detainee in syria."

Followed by a link to a page showing names of Lebanese detainees--with my brother's name very clearly in the list.

This came as a surprise to most of my family, as you might imagine. For one thing, we all thought he was in California. I mean, I even went so far as to believe he and I were living in the same house. In fact, I was convinced I had seen my brother just this morning before I headed off to work, and before I ever got his e-mail. He didn't seem like a detainee then, nor did he appear to be in Syria.

Unless... well, unless I am also in Syria without realizing it.

Hmmm. The plot most definitely thickens.

Logically Delicious!

Sooooo, let me see if I get this straight. The pope recently gave a speech in which he referenced some emperor as saying that Islam is "evil and inhuman" and spread faith "by the sword."

Then an extremist Islamic group has the following reaction, which is, of course, entirely rational:

The group said Muslims would be victorious and addressed the pope as "the worshipper of the cross" saying "you and the West are doomed as you can see from the defeat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and elsewhere. ... We will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose head tax, then the only thing acceptable is a conversion (to Islam) or (killed by) the sword." (quoted in an article on CNN.)

Hmmm.

It would be laughable if it weren't so damn scary.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Home Sweet Home

I have always had trouble feeling "at home" anywhere.

Of course, it doesn't help that I am sadly deficient when it comes to the "nesting" impulse. I do not know how to decorate, nor do I much care what a room looks like, as long as there is room for books, a bed, a place to keep my clothes... you know, the necessary things.

Sometimes, I do wish I was more domestically inclined. Perhaps I will be someday. I already clean slightly more often than I did when I was much younger, which is not saying an awful lot, but hey, it's better than nothing, and gives one hope that improvement is not entirely out of my reach. I can also cook a little.

But I feel like I am still waiting and longing for that place to call home. I just wonder how I'll know I've finally found it.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bleah

I have a sore throat today. Wah.

In other news... hmm. Well, I don't actually have any other news. Long day at work, and I'm tired. Also a little depressed.

Thankfully, I don't have to go in to the office until 12:30pm tomorrow. I am so sleeping in.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

This One's For The Birds

There are so many great things in this article about a bank's efforts to rid itself of pesky pigeons, but my favorite part is the very last paragraph. It's not every day you hear death described as an "unfortunate side effect."

It made me think of those ads you see on TV for allergy medicines or whatever, and they start rattling off the fine-print list of side effects really fast at the end. Just imagine: "Use of Xiloagiuannicin may result in hair loss, runny nose, death, and stomach cramps."

Hmmm, I think we're all going to have to listen a LOT more carefully to those from now on.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Productivity is Overrated

I love tea.

If I could, I would instate an "afternoon tea" in my office. What better way to ease toward the end of the day than with a steaming hot cup of Earl Grey and some little cakes and pastries and light desserts? I love it!

Today I bought Chocolate Caramel Tartlet cookies from Trader Joe's, to go with my tea. Mmmmmmmmm, delightful!

Speaking of innovative office ideas, I would also institute naptime, reading time, and going-for-a-walk-in-the-afternoon time during the workday. Which may not leave much time for actual working, I admit, but I bet it would make for more productive workers.

Or at least, happier ones.

A Little Security Is A Dangerous Thing

I listened to President Bush's speech last night as I drove home from work. He talked about why we are in Iraq, but as always as far as I'm concerned, very unconvincingly. He said that Saddam Hussein posed a risk we couldn't afford to take, and that "We are safer now, but we are not yet safe."

As I look at the exploding Middle East, I have trouble believing in Bush's words. The world does not seem like a safer place to me. And besides, I wonder: How safe can an open, democratic, free society ever really be? Is safety worth the price of any of those freedoms enshrined in our Constitution?

I heard someone else on the radio yesterday morning, talking about how there are still security problems in our country, and pointing out how Israel, for example, has much more stringent measures. I was shocked. I remember my trip to Israel two years ago. I remember the giant wall between Israel and the West Bank, the razor-wired checkpoints, the way I was questioned at the Taba border because of being half-Egyptian, the armed guard in Jerusalem who demanded to check my bag, as well as my friend's, before he would allow us in to a McDonald's. Is that the kind of society we want to make for ourselves, so that we can be "safe"?

God, I hope not.

I am not saying we should not have any security measures, of course. But let's not kid ourselves... complete and total safety is an illusion in a society that acknowledges the free will of individuals.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Five Years Later

For the hurt of the daughter of my people I am hurt. I am mourning; astonishment has taken hold of me.

Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! --Jeremiah 8:21, 9:1


In my Bible, there is a scribbled note in the margin next to the verses I've just quoted. The note is five years old, and it says simply, "9/11."

I did not lose anyone I loved as a result of the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers. I had never been to New York, and had no ties to the city that I should have felt the impact of the event that knocked our nation, and our world, into a new, and frightening, era. I didn't know why I should feel any sense of loss.

But I did.

I remember one or two weeks after the attacks, I was in a grocery store. A special edition of TIME magazine caught my eye as I was by the checkout stand. The issue was dedicated simply to photos taken of the World Trade Center and New York that day. I flipped through slowly, and came across a picture of two tiny people, hands locked together, black specks against a wide blue sky, with the long, smoking wall of one of the towers off to the side.

I put the magazine back on the rack, and left the grocery store. I went to my car and, for a length of time I don't remember now, I just sat there crying.

Five years later, I find myself unable to watch the movies that have come out recently, about 9/11. World Trade Center, United 93, and others. I don't know why. Is it too soon? When will it be soon enough?

I can't say.

This morning, I am watching CNN's live coverage from 9/11, being shown in real time on their Web site. The first plane had already hit when I tuned in, and the reporters were still confusedly trying to make sense of what had happened. I saw the second plane run into the second tower as the first tower billowed smoke across a clear sky. I started to cry again.

Oh that my eyes were a fountain of tears!

And now I have to get ready for work. I'm going to be late. Ah, the great absurdity of life... The fact that it will just go on, in spite of us, in spite of everything.

But oh God, the things we carry as we have to go along with it!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Another Award-Winning, Dating Service E-mail

Thinking about my previous post a little more, I don't know that it's really the expense that keeps me from joining online dating services, such as eHarmony and Match.com. I think it's a stubborn, old-fashioned romanticism that persists deep inside my otherwise practical persona.

It's also the fact that I can't take any more of the weird e-mails these services send out. Consider this one:

Summer Romance Can Last a Lifetime

[grackyfrogg], You can’t forget the feel of his
lips – like velvet heat. The husky ring of
his laughter. A trace of his cologne
lingers in the air. You wonder how you
could have ever lived without him.

And to think it all began with an email on
Match.com.


Ugh.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What Price for Love?

The other day, I received an "introductory offer" e-mail from eHarmony, which opened compellingly as follows:

Dear [grackyfrogg],

The summer's not over yet! Get to know a man you've always dreamed of finding, and at a great discount.
(emphasis mine)

So, apparently the man of my dreams = Mr. Blue Light Special.

How...romantic.

Of course, the irony is that, even though I created an eHarmony profile about two years ago, I have never once subscribed to their service. Why not?

Um, too expensive.

I am a strange, strange girl.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Hot and Cold

You know the air conditioning is working a little too well in your office, when you are making yourself hot chocolate in the afternoon in order to get warm.

Especially when you get back to your desk and check the outside air temperature (thank you, weather widget!) and discover that it is nearly 80 degrees fahrenheit BC (Beyond the Cubicle).

Wow.