Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Amazon 4-for-3 sale & Savings

I am not getting any kickbacks, payments, or freebies from these folks. This is strictly my frugal shopping at work. has a four-for-three sale right now. Not all books and home products qualify. If you buy four of those that do, the cheapest one is free. Select SuperSaver Free Shipping, and it can really add up. I've just made my second purchase since the sale started. I'm collecting all of the Charlaine Harris/Sookie Stackhouse novels.

I also was pleasantly surprised to save about $800 on auto insurance by switching to GEICO from Hartford/AARP, without losing anything much in coverage. Hartford/AARP is supposed to give a price break to people over 50. At first, it did. But over the years, it has jumped by leaps and bounds. I've had a clean record for more than 10 years, knock on wood.

I like the Hartford approach of issuing a policy for 12 months, not six. I've hesitated to switch, because a teaser rate for the first six months can quickly jump when it comes time to renew. If that happens, I will feel ripped off, and I will leave GEICO so quickly, it will make a scampering ghekko look like a turtle poking along. In the meantime, I will have saved a bundle, so it was worth going through the paperwork. GEICO also made that easy with online and telephone help.

I had GEICO many years ago, and I had no trouble with them, so I hope it works out.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dreamworlds of Literary Space
Are Haven from Economic Bad News

Maybe it's the economy, but I am plumb wore out on posting any opinions about the news of day. More and more, I am making time to sneak into the dream worlds of literary space. Last night's outing kept me up until three in morning, which meant I guiltily skipped my tao yoga group.

My adventure was in the cyberpunk dreamworld of Michael Marshall Smith's Only Forward. I was impressed with his second novel, Spares, a tauter and more cohesive cyberpunk novel that I read at least five years ago. I can see how the themes of Spares are improved variations of those in Only Forward.

I am hoarding the remaining Charlaine Harris/Sookie Stackhouse series books. Like an addict with a limited remaining supply, I am afraid that I will tear through them too quickly.

Another current diversion is Diana Vreeland's autobiography, D.V., published in 1984. I'll comment on that at Fashion After 50. I hope you'll visit there to read my most recent post about this fabulous button coat, a scanned copy that appear here without publisher's permission. This fiber art creation is by Mario Rivoli.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Water Mall, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The best thing I do for myself all week is attend a tao yoga class on Sunday mornings. It is located in an unusual mall that attracts many alternative health businesses.

There are four buildings, arranged as if a square had been bisected in each direction. The buildings are built on two levels, one slightly higher than the other.
The center X is formed of fountains and waterways that run the length of the buildings. Water flows from higher pools to lower ones, over the escarpments. Visitors cross the waterways with steps and bridges. In some places, the trees seem as carefully trimmed as stunted Japanese plants. Oh, I wish I could think of the word for that careful asymmetry. Here are the photos.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Literary Space: Experiences
& Quotations

There have not been many times in recent years when I have found a literary space compelling and longed to escape there. Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series and the HBO rendition Trueblood are having that effect on me. I feel a little silly, because I have decided that a woman of a certain age should not be seduced by fiction.

The times when I have fallen so completely under the spell of another world created by a writer are memorable. One summer when I was working part-time, I read the entire, more than 1,000-page version of The Count of Monte Cristo, by Dumas Pere. Accompanied with Chardonnay and perhaps a bit of hashish, it was amazing.

In graduate school, I entered the cyberpunk world of William Gibson in the Neuromancer trilogy. It was a bright new way to look at the computers we in newspapers had been using for typesetting and layout for decades. Gibson coined the word cyberspace. He later said in an interview that his cyberspace world was richer because he didn’t really know much about computers at the time.

Here are some quotations related to creating and entering literary space.

  • I read a great deal. It’s the only way we have to live more than lives than one.

-- Bonita Hersch, in John D. MacDonald’s Nightmare in Pink

  • Why cannot one make one’s books live except in the night, after hours of straining? and you know they have to be your own books too, and you have to read them more than once. I think they take in something of your personality, and your environment also . . .It is that specially which makes one need good books: books that will be worthy of what you are going to put into them. . . . if you can get the right book at the right time you taste joys – not only bodily, physical, but spiritual also, which pass one out above and beyond one’s miserable self, as it were through a huge air, following the light of another man’s thoughts. And you can never be quite the old self again. You have forgotten a little bit: or rather pushed it out with a little of the inspiration of what is immortal in someone who has gone before you.

-- T. E. Lawrence, John E. Mack's biography, A Prince of Our Disorder

  • That’s a great gift, my boy, to tell a story the way you did, a story that is not quite true but that sounds true. That the point in story-telling. Making people believe the story is true.

-- B. Traven – a man whose whole life is a story of false identities, stories told so that they sound true, a man whose life was as much an adventure as his stories – in The Death Ship

  • Never trust a writer. They think they can do atrocious things and then just tear them out of the typewriter, throw them away and start afresh.

-- William Kotzwinkle in The Queen of Swords

  • The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book published. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate.

-- William Faulkner, in the Paris Review Interviews, Writers at Work, 1958, edited by Malcolm Crowley

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fort Lauderdale Cheap Thrills:
Broward Boulevard and Beyond

Some places, like some people, make one’s heart skip a beat. I rarely enter a library without a feeling of excitement at the treasure hunt that lays before me. I almost never enter a place of worship without a feeling of wonder at the magic of faith that has inspired humankind to both art and depredation for so long. And although I my life no longer includes the sight of thoroughbreds galloping around a race course at dawn, the sun gleaming off their shiny coats, I can never see those athletes of such power and elegance without thinking of the words of racing handicapper Clem Florio, “You gotta love this life.”


The Fort Lauderdale Main Library, just off Broward Boulevard in the heart of the museum district, is an architectural relic of the 1960s. The entire non-fiction collection fits on one floor.

If you have spent time in a university library of any size, or one of the great libraries such as Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Fort Lauderdale Main Library is not much. However, I spent much of my teenage years ransacking the shelves of a neighborhood library that occupied the space of a pharmacy which had built a larger, modern accommodation across the street. Pharmacies were changing from dispensaries of pills, salves, ointments, bandages, and hospital equipment to the popular vendors of everything from auto motor oil to T-shirts and teddy bears that we know today.

No matter how small the library, I never despair of finding true treasure on its shelves. The day did not disappoint. As I searched for architectural guides to South Florida, I discovered a photo illustrated volume of the architecture of the South. I do long to take a little expedition one of these days along the Natchez Trace and into the heart of the Mississippi Delta blues juke joints.


Nothing beats free when it comes to cheap thrills

Adjunct professors are paid beggars’ wages, but a perk of my job is free parking on Broward College campuses. The downtown campus is across from the Main Library.

The seventh level of the parking garage is free if you have a staff or student window hangar. The climb to the top is perilous, with young students whipping cars recklessly around the hairpin curves, despite traffic driving two ways. But the elevators are air-conditioned and clean. And the price definitely is right.


Hot Dog Central at 4200 West Broward Boulevard in Plantation is an old-time drive-through with a quaint outdoor deck, pictured above. The Top Dog comes with homemade corn relish and mustard and is a winner.

Be sure to read the paper menu if you go. I craved some fresh coleslaw but didn’t see it on the menu next to the order window. The paper menu brags about the fresh-made slaw. Another menu brag is the fresh-cut fries.

A chicken salad sandwich was on the special menu today. Regular menu features include burgers, Philly cheesesteak, veggie wrap and even a chopped salad.

Hot Dog Central is well off the tourist path, just west of S.R. 7/U.S. 441. It closes at 5 p.m. and on Sundays.


When was the last time gas was $2.89 a gallon? Cash only and expect to wait in line about 20 minutes. I passed up this real deal yesterday, hoping the lines wouldn’t be as long on a workday as on Sunday. It was worth the drive even though far, far from Broward Boulevard, on University Drive between Riverside Drive and McNab Road.

I returned to my lair just as the afternoon rains were starting.

It’s been a good day, of unexpected small pleasures and treats -- the best kind.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Georgette Heyer, Mark Twain, Tom Robbins & More Quotations for Our Times

Dorothy Parker reportedly answered the telephone, “What fresh hell is this?” (See for example, Marion Meade’s biography of that title.) Many of us have felt this way in recent weeks.

Dumas pere, in the Count of Monte Cristo, implied that the ancients had it correct when they named “Mercury, the of merchants and robbers – classes which we in modern times have separated if not made distinct, but which antiquity appears to have included in the same category.”

These trying times call for wisdom greater than my own. For example, Tom Robbins, in Still Life with Woodpecker, reminded, “A successful external reality depends upon an internal vision that is left intact.”

Along similar lines, Mark Twain commented, “Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.”

J. B. Priestley, in The Magicians, succinctly stated, “When you’re bitter, you’re beat.”

Eastern philosophy is always a good place to turn for bracing ideas. Swami Sivananda, in Divine Bliss, explained the concept of mental austerity or tapas:

To keep a balanced mind in all conditions of life, to bear insult, injury and persecution, to be ever serene, contented and peaceful, to be cheerful in adverse conditions, to have fortitude in meeting danger, to have presence of mind and forbearance, are all forms of mental tapas.

I have often rallied myself with this quotation from The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer, “You have fallen into a fit of despondency, and there is not the least need! In fact, nothing could be more fatal in any predicament! It encourages one to suppose that there is nothing to be done, when a little resolution is all that is wanted to bring matters to a happy conclusion.”

I whiled away many afternoons as a teenager with Heyer, lying in a hammock. My ex-husband used to say that the reason I liked to read costume novels was because, “You imagine that you will be would have been the royalty. But you wouldn’t have, you know. You’d be the kitchen maid.”

He probably is right. My father’s family was potato farmers in the old country. My maternal grandfather came from the illegitimate second family of a wine merchant. The family was well-off but those are not credentials that gain admittance to the castles of lords and ladies.

I remember where I was when I learned of Heyer’s death: reading the Times-Picayune in a corner diner, eating breakfast, on my first trip to New Orleans, my first separation for the husband of the snarky quote above.

The point of reading novels is not to weigh the words on the scales of reality but to slip through the veils of imagination into the literary space created by the writer.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sookie Stackhouse, Charlaine Harris & Her Southern Vampire Series, HBO's Trueblood and Literary Space

I took most of the day off from work and entered what Ruth L. Hubbard called “literary space” in a 1969 research article. My territory was the world created by Charlaine Harris in her Southern Vampire series, which is receiving vast public attention since used as the basis for the HBO series Trueblood.

Sookie Stackhouse is the hero of this compelling world, which occupies a small corner of northern Louisiana. The tall, dark, handsome love interest in the first novel, Dead Until Dark, is the vampire Bill, who just happens to be dead – until dark.

I entered this steamy world from about 10 p.m. last night until 1 this afternoon, with some time out for sleep. The experience of so fully entering a fictional world that blots out the here-and-now reality set me to thinking about what makes the experience of watching the TV serial qualitatively different from reading the book.

Hubbard’s article (Inner Designs in Language Arts, volume 66) has shaped my thinking about the experience of reading long past the influence normally held by academic research. Hubbard interviewed seven- and nine-year-olds with open-ended questions. She found that children, like adults, enter into what she calls "literary space," defined as that mental area in which the story events feel as if they are happening to you even though you know they're not. It is a state of mind in which the distinction between oneself and the story blurs. It is characterized by complete concentration on the book that blocks out attention to the outside world, and the sense that what happens in the story "fells like" it is happening to you.

Obviously, I am influenced by my experience watching Trueblood, because a month ago I didn’t know who Charlaine Harris was. Now, I’ve read the first book and avidly await the arrival of the next four.

One way that the books are different from watching TV is that I can enter the literary space of the novels and occupy it for hours and hours.

I also enjoy imagining the characters, instead of seeing the writers' and directors' visual interpretations. Anna Paquin’s Sookie structured my imaginary Sookie, but my vampire Bill is as much influenced by Anne Rice’s Lestat as actor Stephen Moyer.

Rice’s vampire world became overly convoluted in Queen of the Damned and her writing overwrought. Tale of the Body Thief redeemed her quartet of Vampire Chronicles. Down-to-earth Sookie Stackhouse’s common sense will, hopefully, be a counterweight to Harris going in that direction. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to my next escape into the literary space that Harris has created.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Lauderhill, Florida, Evening Walk

I know there are places more beautiful than South Florida. It's hard to believe that, though, when I catch a photo like this of clouds reflecting off one of the many ordinary, ordinary canals that are a part of our drainage system.

This resident coaxes birds to live on Easy Street in many charming houses. These photos show a few.

The curve of the lake contrasts with the angles of the skeleton of this tree.

A sign points the way home to our apartment buildings, named after European cities.