28 January 2013

7 ways to celebrate Pride and Prejudice without being obvious

If you're a particular kind of literary nerd, you know that today is a very important day: It's the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice.

I've known about this for weeks, and I've tried to figure out how best to commemorate this day that, for Jane Austen fans, is like a blend of the Fourth of July and the Queen's Jubilee.

{That's because we feel, instinctively, that a day as momentous as this should involve fireworks and people speaking in British accents while wearing pretty clothes.}

Sure, you could be obvious and re-read a favorite section of Pride and Prejudice, but that idea just lacks imagination. That's exactly the kind of thing Caroline Bingley would come up with, and we all know that we don't want to be like her.

This morning on my run, I channeled the spirit of Elizabeth Bennet {although if I were really chanelling her, I probably wouldn't have been in quick-dry shorts that exposed so much of my legs...}, and came up with:

7 Ways to Celebrate Pride and Prejudice without Being Obvious

  1. Walk across a muddy field. Arrive somewhere fashionable and proper looking distinctively messy and unproper. If you can find a stile to cross, all the better. If your walk ends at a house like Netherfield, you may be in some sort of Austen-themed amusement park. Watch out.
  2. Refuse to read any article about this anniversary that starts with "It is a truth universally acknowledged..." They're not even trying to be original. Whoever writes like that probably starts every other article with "Merriam-Webster defines [hope, growth, whatever] as..." If you like Jane Austen, you're allowed to be a words snob.
  3. Never use anyone's first names. Call everyone you know Miss This and Mr. That. Your boss may especially like this one, and if your company is like my company and your annual review is coming up soon, he/she may be so taken with your return to this level of formality that you get a raise.
  4. Wear an empire-waisted dress. No, wait, that one is a little obvious.
  5. Don't watch Lost in Austen. It was made by ITV {they of Downton Abbey fame} and the premise sounds so good: a modern-day woman gets transported back into the story of Pride and Prejudice. She realizes that she has the ability to change the novel, and oh my, what to do with such power and lack of modern conveniences? I can tell you what: NOTHING interesting. It's mostly her saying to characters, "Oh, I remember when this happens in the book!" and then, understandably, them looking at her in confusion. Four hours of confused people in period costume is not entertainment.
  6. Watch the Colin Firth-coming-out-of-the-water-in-a-white-shirt scene from the BBC version. That scene wasn't in the book? Elizabeth actually started to fall in love with Darcy when she saw how beautiful Pemberley was, not when she saw Darcy's abs? No one cares. More Colin Firth. Colin Firth all the time.

  7. Read a favorite section out loud in a British accent. Oh, I'm a girl with a British literature degree: I am already obvious in my love for Jane Austen, so I may as well celebrate today in a very obvious way. I might as well go all the way and drink a pot of tea while I do my reading. This doesn't, by the way, mean I'm like Caroline Bingley, who I earlier accused of lacking imagination. In fact, it means I'm like Elizabeth Bennet: aware of her own mind and unafraid to speak it.

    And my mind right now says: Go read Darcy's second proposal.

    My mind also says: Consider embroidering it onto a tea towel and selling it on Etsy. Jane Austen fans love that kind of stuff.

25 January 2013

poetry + ponderings on google

The strangest thing just happened: I decided, here at the end of this wintry week, that I needed a poem, a sparse, pared down reminder of the beauty that exists all around us in this world.

And honest-to-goodness, I decided to test the powers of Google. Sometimes I like to see if the machine really does know everything. I searched for "I just want a poem."

But you know how Google tries to guess ahead to what you want, based on what other people are searching for, and I don't know, maybe based on what you've searched for in the past and other websites you've visited?

These are the auto-fill options that came up:
  • I just want a boyfriend: I assume these people will be directed to eHarmony.
  • I just want my pants back: You'll probably end up on Gap.com or JCrew.com. Or on Craigslist to post what will certainly not be the most bizarre posting on that site ever.
  • I just want to ride bikes with you: Okay, but you probably should ask me in person and not when it's winter and has just snowed. Also I bet the next thing you google is: "I just wish I owned a bike."
  • I just want you to know who I am: You should probably start a blog. It's a good way to tell people things about yourself that they might not want to know.
I want this to be an insight into the soul of America, but I doubt it is, and it did give me a pick-me-up on this cold afternoon. As did this poem, which I did eventually find, after being distracted by bikes and pants.

I Taught Myself to Live Simply
Anna Akhmatova

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,
to look at the sky and pray to God,
and to wander long before evening
to tire my superfluous worries.
When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops
I compose happy verses
about life's decay, decay and beauty.
I come back. The fluffy cat
licks my palm, purrs so sweetly
and the fire flares bright
on the saw-mill turret by the lake.
Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof
occasionally breaks the silence.
If you knock on my door
I may not even hear.

20 January 2013

the appeal in ice fishing {a poem}

The man is alone on the ice,
an inconsequential spot
to those in climate-controlled cars speeding their way on I-70 between Denver and the ski resorts.

We've got to hurry, they all think,
so we can get up on that mountain,
get out into nature,
ski goggles in place,
helmet on,
parka zipped.

We've got to hurry to make the most of the day.

But the man sits alone on the ice on an old milk crate,
his fishing line dangling into the hole
he cut several hours earlier.

The appeal in ice fishing must be in its recognition
that we are all inconsequential spots,
mere shadows in nature's grandeur and light.

His gray stocking cap is pulled low,
and a plaid Thermos of coffee is in easy reach.
Slow, steady breaths and the occasional scrape of his boot on the ice—
these are the only sounds
as he waits for the Next Big Thing that
may be right under his feet.

To make the most of the day,
the ice fisherman knows,
usually requires
slowing down and
trusting: you can't always see the good that's right around you.

But hush. And wait.
It may come right to you.

15 January 2013

for those moments in the woods

My friends Brenda, Beth, and I used to play a musicals games on gchat every day: one of us would change our status to a line from a musical {the more esoteric the line, the better: if you want to use Annie, it wouldn't be a very fun game if you posted "The sun'll come out tomorrow!"}, and then the other two, when they figured it out, would post another line from the same show.

It's the kind of game three friends who met in a class on musical theatre would play, and it's especially good if the three of you all work desk jobs now but still wish for that musical magic in your life.

Days at a desk can start to feel repetitive, like an homage to that Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, and you start to think that your life isn't all that exciting, no matter how much you like your job.

This is where musicals come in. {Actually, if I try even a little smidge, I can get musicals into most conversations.}

Brenda, Beth, and I share a love for Into the Woods, a Stephen Sondheim show about the "ever after" in fairy tales: How did it work out for Cinderella? What about Jack and the Beanstalk? And Little Red Riding Hood: She's a spunky little thing, but what about after she has her run-in with the wolf?

One of my favorite songs from the show is "Moments in the Woods"—this song that talks straight to that longing we all, I think, sometimes get hit with: something thrilling has just happened, and you wish: Couldn't life always be like this?

Couldn't my life always be trips to glamorous places?

Couldn't every meal be French?

Couldn't I wake up every morning rested, no matter how late I stayed up reading?

Couldn't I always feel like I was being twirled around in a ballroom while wearing a pretty dress?

Couldn't my life be made up of highlights?

The Baker's Wife sings about just that thought in "Moments in the Woods." The Prince has just found her in the woods, and he kissed her! Her, the Baker's Wife! The lady who's usually covered in flour and trying to buck up her husband!

She's astounded at how just the Prince's kiss made her feel like a different person—but she knows that that kiss and that moment are not real life. You can't build a life on a kiss in the woods.

Real life is out of the woods, with her husband, working together to build a better life. That thing that happened in the woods—well, that was just a moment.

She sings:
Just a moment,
One peculiar passing moment—

Must it all be either less or more,
Either plain or grand?
Is it always "or"?
Is it never "and"?

That's what woods are for:
For those moments in the woods.

Oh, if life were made of moments,
Even now and then a bad one!
But if life were only moments,
Then you'd never know you had one.


Let the moment go!
Don't forget it for a moment, though.
Just remembering you've had an "and"
When you're back to "or"
Makes the "or" mean more
Than it did before.

Now I understand—
And it's time to leave the woods.
That part about how if life were only moments—these highlights {and lowlights} in the woods, away from our day-to-day joys {and struggles}—then we'd never be able to appreciate moments when they came along: That's the part that has stuck with me for years, the part that flits into my head every now and again when I'm sitting at my desk.

The day may be dull or frustrating, but it's my day, and I can appreciate its normalcy precisely because I also have days that are whirlwind curly-cues of joy.

Thank goodness for those moments in the woods.

Watch "Moments in the Woods" for yourself and see if you don't feel the same way I do. Ooh, you should tell me if you don't, and then we can talk on and on about musicals. I would love that.

14 January 2013

genetically modified for coffee

I heard this on NPR this morning:
Because of genetic differences, some of us metabolize caffeine much more quickly than others.

That is it.

That is why I'm able to drink espresso at 9pm and still go to sleep.

That is why I can have about 12 cups of coffee a day and not feel my heart racing—or any effects of the coffee itself.

That is why when people say, "I just can't function in the morning until I've had my coffee," I cannot relate. I can function at 5:05. I can function at 7:00. I can function at 2:00pm, when, according to that 5-hour Energy drink commercial, I should be crashing and wishing for more...well, energy.

It is, as many things are {including whether you're an early bird or a night owl}, because of genetics.

I must metabolize caffeine as fast as hummingbirds can flap their little wings. In other words: so fast, it's practically invisible. A blur of metabolizing.

I think someone should study me. You know, some scientist.

As a bonus, then I could drink lots of coffee. Which we all know I need to do more of.

In the meantime, you can read more about the story on NPR here.

04 January 2013

still not tina fey

It came from FedEx just the other day: my opportunity to be Tina Fey.

It was not glasses like hers because I will admit: I already have glasses like hers—not because I bought them to imitate her but because she and I have such similar taste {we're like best friends who haven't met, but that sounds creepy and more than a little odd to base your best friendships on glasses choices}.

Nor was it a job offer to be a head writer for Saturday Night Live because 1) I've never applied for that, 2) pretty sure, having never done improv, I'm not qualified for it, and 3) I bet Lorne Michaels doesn't use FedEx for job offers.

In that FedEx envelope was an American Express card—a corporate American Express card, FedExed from my company's corporate headquarters in New Jersey.

As I ripped open the envelope, the 30 Rock theme start playing. In my head, but then I sang it so that everyone in my office knew I was having my Tina Fey moment.

Finally, I can re-enact this commercial the next time I go to the airport and run into Martin Scorsese {which, for the record, has obviously never happened because trust me, you would've heard about it by now. This corporate American Express card is going to bring so many stories into my life, I just know it}.

Another Way I Will Be Like Tina Fey: Commercial Proof

I will be able to get into the Admirals' Club! Where I will be able to discuss unique opportunities! * {See explanatory note below, in case you're wondering if I just accidentally put in an asterisk.}

This corporate American Express card, combined with my great love of hot dogs and organization/schedules—just like Tina Fey {okay, really, just like Liz Lemon}—will cement my Tina Fey-ness.

But then, at the end of the commercial {which I immediately googled after opening my FedEx envelope}, I noticed something: Tina's card didn't look quite like mine. It looked—better. More silvery. Less like a corporate card.

Next stop on the Internet: the American Express site, which expressly told me that while I'm privileged to be a cardholder {and thank you, Corporate Office, for giving me this card! I do appreciate it!}, I'm still not Tina Fey.

My card will not get me into the Admirals' Club. Or any of the other airline lounges.

If I went to a place that was called, by some bad idea of marketing, The Airline Lounge, I could use my card to pay for the food, of course, but that's not nearly the same thing as being Tina Fey.

And to that I say: BLERGH.

*Confession about the Admirals' Club: I've actually been in the Admirals' Club, several times even {not to rub it in, but did I mention that it was several times?}.

I know there aren't a whole lot of unique opportunities being discussed in there. It's mostly business-y people talking on their cell phones about mergers and stock performances and blah-blah-blah other business-speak words.

Come to think of it: Unique opportunity is a business-speak word, and whenever I hear it, I immediately judge the person using it and mentally note that their opportunity is probably either 1) run-of-the-mill, or 2) expensive and unnecessary.

But the Admirals' Club does have good snacks; I will say that. That in and of itself is a unique opportunity in an airport, unless the airport has a hot dog stand, in which case, that stand is the best unique opportunity. {See?? Just like Liz Lemon: so into food that is bad for me / potentially isn't even food.}


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