Saturday, November 29, 2008

Florida, My Florida: Home Again & It Feels Great

South Florida makes me smile. Blue sky, warm sun on my skin. Sunglasses out of its case for the first time since I left Fort Lauderdale five days ago. Four days in the Northeast is about all I can stand.

There’s something to be said, I am sure, for a brisk walk in the crisp air, the feathery spikes of frost on a window pane, a blanket of white snow carpeting the ground, trimming the trees, and piling high on power lines. I am not the one to say it. I remember standing swaddled in a nylon snowsuit, snowbanks towering over me. I thought God had put me with the wrong family; surely I belonged with one in Florida. I moved South of the Mason-Dixon line as soon as I was old enough to do so. Baltimore was not warm enough, so eventually I moved to South Florida with little more than a Doberman and a dream of being able to stay. It has not always been easy.

My plane left Albany on a morning as gray as all the others of my Thanksgiving stay. Approaching Fort Lauderdale, the noonday sun reflects off canals and catchment lakes, turning them into sheets of hammered gold. Swaths of green are cut by black ribbons of roads as the plane descends. Grand homes on large lots yield to those closely huddled around cul de sacs.

In the first flush of leaving the terminal, all my gripes, fears, worries and concerns vanish in a rush of agape for this place. I love the feel of vitamin D soaking into my skin. The air kisses my face. I am home.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Text Messaging: Connection or Illusion?

I don't get it: text messaging, I mean.

I have officially reached old fogey status with my complete lack of comprehension for this convenience. Using my thumbs to communicate with people in hieroglyphic abbreviations is not so much not-doable as not appealing.

It may be useful in some situations, but I do not fall into any of the categories that suggest themselves to me. For example:

  • A working mother who cannot take time out to talk on the telephone every two minutes with children but who wants to keep tabs on them and respond to their needs.
  • An emergency medical technician taking a class but who must remain on call and similar work situations.
  • A husband at work waiting for a call to take his pregnant wife to the hospital and other medical situations.
  • A stock day trader (if there are any left in this sorry market) who must see the prices scrolling past moment by moment.
  • Barack Obama, isolated behind intense security and constantly on the move in a campaign bus, keeping in touch with family and friends.

I grew up in an era when Be Here Now was the philosophy. My goal is to be deeply rooted in the moment. I want my body-mind-soul to be aware of their space-time connections. I do not want to splice off parts of my consciousness to text message. I'm not even all that fond of the telephone.

Moreover, I suspect that the messages I am most likely to receive are those that I least want. These would include late-night questions from students when I am too tired to care about their success in my class and scary announcements about elder relatives’ well-being that would jolt me awake in terror.

Text messaging has advantages: it less expensive than cell phone time, less obtrusive in many situations, can be used to answer a question quickly without the small talk or distractions of a conversation, and may consume less time than talking. My millennial students say that text messaging makes them feel connected to the world at all times. My philosophy is that connectedness starts within, not without. Test messaging is an illusion of connectedness, not the real thing.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Books
Beat Handeland's Werewolf Nightcreatures

Lori Handeland has my respect as author; anyone who can make a living turning out novel after novel deserves accolades. This isn’t about trashing a penwoman. Rather, it’s an investigation into why I find one fictional world compelling and the other boring.

I am so enthralled by the world Harris creates in her Sookie Stackhouse novels (source of the HBO Trueblood series) that I became concerned about polishing off the eight novels too quickly. I can tear through a typical airport novel in a day. Handeland’s werewolf series earned many complimentary reviews on I purchased the Nightcreature novels as a set on ebay.

I have finished the first four novels in each series. Here’s five reasons why I love the world Harris has created.

Harris creates interesting, appealing multi-dimensional characters.

Heroine Sookie Stackhouse is so unique that 150-year-old vampire Bill Compton asks her several times, “What are you?” Sookie is a small-town waitress, psychic, and brave, but she has off-days like anyone else. I may be 35 years older than Sookie, but I can relate to her concerns, such as how to afford gravel for the driveway or a new coat to replace one splattered with the brains of a shapeshifter who tried to kill her.

The vampires are a mix of evil and good, like humans. I can move almost seamlessly from my world into the one Harris has creates for Sookie and her herd. Each Handeland heroine, on the other hand, has two interests: killing werewolves and having great sex with the guy in her life. Handeland also created a writing conundrum for herself by writing in the voice of a new heroine in each book. Handeland gets around the similarity in voice of the first two protagonists by playing it up. They become best friends. The third book was so by-the-numbers that I finished it in three hours while standing in line to vote, skipping over anything that made me yawn.

The Southern vampire stories are lightened with humor.

Sookie Stackhouse is a kind-hearted misfit. She tends to think charitably of those around her, living, dead, or supernatural. Her humor is more often self-deprecating than unkind to others. Handeland’s gals are tough, alienated, and often bitter. The humor often denigrates others and, most of the time, I don’t find what I am told are humorous asides particularly funny.

The Southern vampire plots are full of surprises.

In the course of four novels, Sookie has (not necessarily in this order) single-handedly foiled vampire drainers, exposed a vampire embezzler, broken up an evangelical group that burns vampires, traveled to Mississippi with a werewolf, hidden a vampire sheriff who has lost his memory from evil witches, participated in several bloodbaths, rescued her lover vampire Bill from being tortured, and become a valued friend of a pack of werewolves and a family of shapeshifter panthers.

Handeland’s heroines have killed werewolves and had sex. Once a Handeland heroine has a good lay, she is hooked forever on the guy. It does not matter if he’s a werewolf or the devil himself, she is in l-o-v-e.

Sookie Stackhouse is not ruled by sexual desire.

It’s tempting to dismiss the sexual obsession of Handeland’s heroines as the follies and hormones of youth. Sookie is young, too, and she is not ruled by her glands. Sookie rescues vampire Bill from his former lover, but she does not return to his arms. Sookie has something going on above the waist.

Sookie’s unexpected affair with vampire Eric, when he loses his memory and becomes uncharacteristically sweet, was inspired. Sookie quickly reject continuing the liaison when Eric returns to being his arrogant, confident, demanding self.

Handeland novels have the typical romance-novel plot: hunky hero, an obstacle that makes the heroine doubt him but not so much that she does not continue to fall into bed with him every time she's near him.

Harris treats sex scenes with a light touch.

Romance novels that started out with purple prose in the 70s have evolved to soft-core pornography. Aching loins. Swollen throbbing manhood. Got it. I don’t need five or six pages of details, thanks anyway Lori. I prefer my porn hard core. By the time I got to Crescent Moon, fourth Nightcreatures novel, the characters and sex was so predictable that I skipped the center, turned to the denouement, and wrapped up the novel in under an hour.

In summary, my unread Charlaine Harris Southern vampire novels are tucked away, a special treat to be anticipated and savored. Appealing characters, original plots, a touch of humor and tasteful sex make this series a winning combination.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting Was Torture in
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Voting was torture. It took three hours. The Florida day was dank and cool. I was close to tears by the time I reached the polling booths, from the pain in my hip and the arthritis in my neck and shoulders.

I finished the last three-quarters of a trashy werewolf novel and had time to knock off a few pages in an internet marketing book I am slowly reading.

A man started standing next to me as I read. He didn’t seem to have been there before. I whisperingly asked the older woman behind me if he’d always been there. She said no. As he inched in front of me, I softly said, “Sir, I was wondering where you came from. Because I’m right behind him (I gestured to a man with a baby in carriage), and she’s right behind me.”

“I was always here,” he said.

The elders in line started shaking their heads at this bald-faced lie. “No, you were back there,” several gestured. He didn’t fall back, but waited where he had been standing as we moved forward. I expect he’d try to find another unaware person – as he must have thought I was buried in my book – or a more timid soul than I who would not challenge him. My hip simply hurt too much after two hours in line to put up with a young buttinsky.

Just as we reached the door into the voting room – a cafeteria in this small development of 10 condominium apartment buildings that served three districts – a busload of handicapped elders came in. They were given chairs and ushered into line before us. I mentioned that I was in severe pain, even though I wasn’t handicapped. People even older than I who had been standing near me also started to grumble. the woman behind me insisted that she go to the check-in ahead of two people who were pushed in front of her. She was 70, at least.

No one wants to be unkind to the handicapped, but after two and a half hours on our feet, our own aches and pains were screaming for attention.

I will never again vote at a polling place. Never, never, never. Absentee ballots are inconvenient, because often they are due before I have all the information I need about the local propositions and local candidates. Nonetheless, when a 19th century voting system is in place, absentee ballot is how I shall have to do it.