Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Covering It Up and Baring It All

I always say book publishing is a little like the fashion industry. For one thing we're always working two seasons ahead. I may be seeing fall back-to-school ads on TV right now but I'm getting ready for the design of all our Spring 2008 book covers.

Have you seen the collage above? It is one designer's version of how different people in the book publishing process would design a particular book cover (click on image to see it bigger). It's pretty funny (or painful) if you've been part of this process. It holds true for magazine covers, story layouts, and website design.

I worked for a religious publishing company some years ago. One imprint was progressive and global and we didn't have many restrictions on cover design. The other imprint was more traditional and certainly more pious and the conservative sales manager had a much larger say in those book covers. Gads! Once we were publishing a book of meditations for new mothers and our book designer came up with some beautiful cover layouts. Except that sales manager insisted we NOT put an image of an actual pregnant mother on the cover as the designer had presented. Too revealing! "Our market might be put off by that," the sales guy said. I said, "Our market? You mean mothers?" Turns out he didn't mean mothers; he meant the ultra-conservative, small, Christian bookstore managers he sold to. I never swore under my breath more than I did at that job. . . .

I wish my friend and former colleague had been part of that discussion at the time because we could have shocked that guy with this empowering shot that appeared in People magazine. (Way to go, Juliliquoy! Any plans for a similar campaign shot with your second pregnancy? Elbee, how 'bout you?)

Here's another designer's take on book covers, at the Book Design Review Blog. It's a good read. Enjoy.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Wait one cotton-pickin' minute

I spent Saturday applying for college financial aid. Do you know it costs about $19,000 to attend the University of Minnesota and live on-campus? We didn't qualify for anything but loans, at 7.98% interest, not any better than Capital One offers. Damn Bush. Damn Pawlenty.

I just saw my first back-to-school TV ad. From Sears. I think I saw my son put his hands over both ears and yell out "nnaa nnaa nnaa nnaa I caan't hear youuuu."

The Twins traded Luis Castillo--a spunky player with a good heart--for a couple of future major-leaguers.

And Cretin football camp started today.

Why can't they just let us enjoy what's left of summer?

Friday, July 27, 2007

The End of the Weekend of the Happy Feet, Day Three

Restaurant and factory workers are often on their feet all day, every day they punch the clock. I have memories of sitting at the corner bar of The Golden Frog supper club with the other waitresses after our shift. I was in college and these older women carried compacts and wore good stockings and dusted with Jean Nate powder. They would sip whiskey sours or brandy old fashions and slip off their work shoes and rub their feet under the bar, with one shoulder leaning down towards a crossed foot, the other shoulder raised up slightly: a provocative angle.

When I think of body obsessions I might think of nineteenth-century Japan and geishas and footbinding. A lesson from Wikipedia: "While bound feet were considered desirable by some men, a misconception is that men found the deformed foot, in the flesh, erotic. In general, men never saw a woman's bound feet, as they were always concealed within tiny 'lotus shoes.' Feng Xun is recorded as stating, 'If you remove the shoes and bindings, the aesthetic feeling will be destroyed forever.' Some scholars have claimed that the erotic effect was a function of the tiny steps and swaying walk of a woman whose feet had been bound. The very fact that the bound foot was concealed from men's eyes was, in and of itself, sexually suggestive."

My Golden Frog ladies would have given you all kinds of insights into this savage practice. And they might have told you an American version, like this:

"Elvis also adored fondling and sucking women's toes, and those in his entourage who were given the job of choosing companions for him would often be asked to check the girls' feet. Small and delicate was the Presley ideal and at least two girlfriends reported havingbeen given the nickname 'Bitty' by Elvis in honour of their 'itty-bitty' feet" (Observer Magazine).

But I know they'd like this lesser-known take on body and illusion, from the voice of the main character Sayuri as she watched her older geisha mentors (from Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden):

"I must tell you something about necks in Japan, if you don’t know it; namely, that Japanese men, as a rule, feel about a woman’s neck and throat the same way the men in the West might feel about a woman’s legs. This is why geisha wear the collars of their kimono so low in the back that the first few bumps of the spine are visible; I suppose it’s like a woman in Paris wearing a short skirt. Auntie painted on the back of Hatsumomo’s neck a design called sanbon-ashi—'three legs.' It makes a very dramatic picture, for you feel as if you’re looking at the bare skin of the neck through little tapering points of a white fence . . . in a way, it’s like a woman peering out from between her fingers.”

With all this in mind, I went to the Mall of America. If life is a cabaret, all illusion and presentation, then the shopping mall outfits us for the part. I shopped first at Ikea, only my second time visiting the store. Like Alice in Wonderland I got lost in the maze. Pretty rooms galore, yes, but how do I get out? I kept landing in the pristine kiddie rooms. They weren't the least bit disheveled with all their flower nightlamps and sock organizers. I found my way to MARKETPLACE and made my selection and when I stood in line with my wares the chic man behind me said, "Don't you just love this place?"

And then I went over to Macy's where the store clerk came into my dressing room while I was out looking for another size (while wearing the too-big store garment) and she took my own street clothes (clearly worn and used and NOT NEW) and brought them over to her register and began hanging them up on hangars. When I got back I was confused my dressing room was empty so I walked over to the register and found her there hanging up my old things. If even she can't tell the old from the new. . . .

Still, I bought a new dress. And then I bought new shoes. And then I practiced my turns in the mirror, watching for my own dramatic picture.

It was hot but all that shopping had made my feet sore and I gave them a break by biking up to the co-op to buy something for my dinner and then to Walgreen's to pick up some bubble bath.

It had been a good and long weekend and I had been successful in my mantra to love the part, love the whole. There is in all of us a bit of illusion and a wish for beauty and stardom. But there is also a healthy measure of self-awareness, with our feet planted firmly on the ground. Like so many other things in my life, I was not preparing for the glass slipper or the lacquered zori but simply a rich life full of lush moments and willing transformations.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Weekend of the Happy Feet, Day Two

From Heidi, by Johanna Spryri, 1955, a favorite childhood book of mine. When Heidi was first led up the Alps that very first summer morning . . .

"she wore two or three dresses, one over the other, and a big red cotton handkerchief around her kneck. Her feet seemed lost in the heavy hobnailed shoes as she made her hot and laborious way up the mountain."

And then she met the young goatherd Peter, an 11-year-old boy, and she

“looked at Peter, who jumped about without any difficulty in his bare feet and light trousers, then at the goats with their small, slender legs climbing still more easily over bushes and stones and steep crags.

"Suddenly she sat down on the ground and pulled off her shoes and stockings. She stood up again, took off her thick, red neckerchief, unfastened her Sunday frock, quickly took that off, and began to unhook her everyday dress. This she had worn under the other, to save her Aunt Dete the trouble of carrying it. . . . She laid her clothes in a neat little pile on the ground and hurried up the mountain, jumping and climbing after the goats as easily as Peter did.

“Heidi was beside herself with delight. . . . All around them were the nodding bluebells, the shining golden roses, the red centauries, and everywhere the sweet fragrance of the brown blossoms and the spicy wild plum. Everthing was so lovely--so lovely.”

When we first bought our little cottage in St. Paul, the former owners, an elderly couple who were childless and loved their pet dog and their flower gardens with passion, used to drive by the house nostalgically in the evenings. It was a terribly tough time in my life. Full of everything, yes, but also completely and overwhelmingly draining. My kids were little, my job was insane, my husband was on the road quite a bit. There was no extra money and barely enough time. And then I killed the flower garden. It died of neglect. Those beautiful tiger lilies. Died. The vibrant irises. Died. I didn't even know what was dying out there, I was so busy. One morning, kids in tow, I opened the front door to head to day care, school, and work, and the door fell off in my hands. I just laid it to the side, propping it against the siding near the stoop, and marched on. How was I to know the garden flowers were dying? And then I heard the dear former owners, Norm and Elizabeth, stopped driving by. She was sick and he was frail and I imagined they were heartbroken over the loss of the house and the flowers they had tended for over 47 years.

And then I had a little shutdown myself. (I write a bit about it here.) I was walking into work with a million things pressing on my mind and I was late but had decided to park near the Metrodome to save six bucks a day in parking fees, and it was cold and I, too, wore heavy hobnailed shoes, and I started to feel faint and weak and then by the time I got to the 5th Street building I could hardly breathe, everything was closing in on me so fast.

I don't know. We all have those terrible times in our lives that in the end become the pivotal points, the tipping points, those bad times that prompt us to seek higher ground and commit to living the good life.

I took a little time off work and everyone around me, even my father--the driven one!--told me I had no hobbies, I needed to learn to relax. My friend Carie brought me needlepoint, my brother bought me pastels and a lovely sketchbook, my mother tried to get me to refinish a chair. And one morning when I was all alone, I sat out barefooted in the backyard, and the cardinals were singing and the doves were cooing so I went into the house to fish out the binoculars. I brought them out and sat in a chair and for the longest time I tracked all that city wildlife. I looked over at those sad little flowerbeds and then I just kneeled into them and began digging and I stayed in the beds all day.

And it has been lovely--so lovely--ever since.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Weekend of the Happy Feet, Night One

If you made a running list of all the places your feet have been, all the trails your feet have hiked, all the shoes and socks and skates and flippers and slippers your feet have worn, why it would be impressive. (Read this about a guy's 1,200 mile trek through the Pacific Northwest Trail.)

The feet take a beating, my mom used to say, and you better care for them now. She’d tell me this when I was thirteen and she was paying extra money for quality shoes for my narrow, size AA feet. Those summers we went to a place we called Gracie’s, Crescent Beach Resort near Bemidji, and the poor resort owner, Gracie herself, would hobble between cabins, her bunions cobbling her up so badly. Mom would tell me at seventeen, just as I was to venture out into the world, take care of yourself. Don’t buy bad shoes. I know she really wanted to say, Don’t find bad men, don’t walk in bad places, but this is how mothers talk.

The men’s magazine, GQ, offers style advice to men. From their website:

Q: The bottoms of my feet feel like sandpaper. Are there any products to combat dry feet?
A: Absolutely. You could try any good body moisturizer, but two products have worked for me, both recommended by my wife with the perfect skin: L’Occitane Shea Butter, a rich emollient that comes in what looks like a big shoe-polish can, and Weleda Wild Rose body oil, which is a liquid. I’ve long had rotten feet, and now they are soft, smooth and low-mileage feeling. The rose oil also seems to help with dry, cracking toenails. I think moisturizing my feet helped me decisively conquer athlete’s foot, with the help of the incomparable and now over-the-counter medication Lamisil.

I’m sure metrosexuals do not have rotten feet. But take a look in the locker room next time you’re there. When I played basketball in high school, our point guard, Barb Hjelmsted, took a single razor to her heels every week, shaving off the crusty edges like we cut Gruyere for our bread. It was nasty. And then there are all those dancers I knew, the ones who progressed further than I ever did, whose battered feet are the stuff of legend.

But no matter. Your feet are your feet. 31% of Americans think feet are sexy, according to USA Today. (What a brave new world this is that I should find that stat so easily.) Give yours a little TLC and they’ll pay you back quickly. We all have home remedies, yes? My husband doesn’t use the incomparable Lamisil described above. Instead he keeps a fresh bottle of Witch Hazel in the bathroom closet for a daily foot dousing. My mom swears by a rub of Avon moisturizer and then donning white cotton socks for the night. That’s my plan. Mother knows best.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Love Thyself or, The Weekend of the Pieds Heureux

It is a dangerous thing, being a woman alone. At last, all these things I like, all these things I treasure, so often put aside while the world turns me around and around.

Last Friday, I came straight home after work, no dawdling, because I knew I'd have the place all to myself. I could watch whatever I wanted, eat whatever I wanted, sleep whenever I wanted. I sat down to a black cherry soda and a bag of Chipotle chips and a bit of reality TV, "A Model Life With Petra Nemcova." Chick lite, that was my aim. I have to say this one was a lot more interesting than that Tara Banks model show. But this program, it hit me right between the eyes. Here were these beautiful international girls, 5'11" and 5'10" and not one over 130 pounds, and the one that the show's trainer deemed "most healthy" was told she needed to lose weight and tone her over-large butt.

I don't know why that should matter to me on a Friday night when I've got a pocket full of tens, beautiful Minnesota weather, and a whole weekend all to myself, but it did. That's it! I thought. Stop the insanity! Why were we all measured by our individual body parts? And when will we ever pass the test? I'm no dummy; half of us are the ones doing our own measuring, I know.

"I can't wear this dress--these arms!"
"I've lost my waist--the only belt I wear now is a seat belt!"

Bah humbug. I was determined to do my part to restore dignity and honor thyself. Honor thyself! Where to start? I'll pick a part, any part, I said, and I will pamper it, all weekend long. The breasts? No, too risque, perhaps. The arse? Pampering options somewhat limited alone. The feet. I looked down at my reclining feet. The feet. (Everyone could use a little foot love. Men could also play along. No more worries over those pecs and abs.) That's it. It will be a weekend dedicated to the feet. Oh mon Cheri, pieds hereux! This will be The Weekend of the Happy Feet.

Look what came to our door Saturday

J.K. Rowling: Brava on a job well done.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Papa Hemingway

I'm alone this weekend. It is rare to have the place all to myself. After a packed workweek I will revel in my aloneness.

I come from a long line of reveling loners. Witness my Papa Teubert, above. Joy, pure joy.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Summer in the City, Sex in the City

What is it about summer and sex? It is everywhere it seems, that is, summer and sex. Is it the clothes, the slim hips and the exposed wrists, those bare clavicles taut and shiny? My friend Sharon just sent me a link to a fashion blog, The Sartorialist, and man, do I love that site. What is not sexy about this, pictures he takes of the eye-pleasing people in New York and Milan?

or this

Every morning I've had this really good honey from the Farmers Market, raw and unprocessed, a cliche on summer sex if there ever was one, but this morning I was in a rush and spilled a big dip of it on my freshly ironed shirt. So I had to quick grab another, a newish cotton blouse. It's one of those breezy blouses with buttons that don't start until halfway down your chest. Cleavage is the new accessory, I see, but this is out of character for me.

I was hitching a ride with a colleague so I didn't have time to change again. As I waited for her to swing by I walked out in my flower garden and tried to push a safety pin through the open V but it wasn't working. I looked around at my neighbor's houses, wondering if they were chuckling and watching me, placing bets on whether or not I would succeed in hiding the decolletage. And then I remembered a line from Kevin Kling's forthcoming book , "Sometimes you look in the mirror and think, 'Oh no! I look like that?' But when you look in a mirror and your love looks over and says, 'You're hot,' you're hot. And it's true . . . you are hot. Same mirror."

I unhooked the safety clip and tossed it into my bag. And now I'm not fooling you, I turned on my cell phone and saw I had a message from my traveling husband and it read simply, "UR Hot." Oh wait, I just checked again. It reads, "UR Hot Stuff." Works for me.

So it should be no surprise to me that in a house full of teenagers, specifically Teen Boys, that a river runs through those veins, too. Those boys are prime real estate for the gnawing of desire, yes? Hell, they wear long shirts over their shorts so they can cover up in an instant.

When I got home last night (thanks Sass for a swell time!) my daughter brought me over to the desktop computer, the one front and center in the reading room, the only one we all use, and she clicked on a jpg with the header "Anna Nicole Hot Stuff." There it was. Well, there she was. I had let the boys have a sleepover the night before and I know they stayed up past two because I had to walk down in my pjs and tell them to get to bed.

"Whose is this?" she asked.

"Ten bucks it's your brother's," I say.

"Mom, this is gross. You can practically see her vagina."

It was basically a Playboy-style pose with hands over breasts and legs crossed tightly at the knees, the sex kitten. Well, the dead sex kitten.

"How are you going to handle this?" she asks. "You shouldn't yell at him. You should just try to make him feel guilty. Tell him it's degrading to both me and you." This the daughter who has been reading Andrea Dworkin.

All I really want to say to the boy is "Anna Nicole? That's just pathetic."

I wait until she leaves for the night and my son and I are alone. We've got the last innings of the Twins on the TV.

I say, "So I saw the picture of Anna Nicole on the computer."

He does the alert face, the one like our neighborhood rabbits. They know you see them and they freeze, looking dead straight ahead, their eyes catching you only so slightly out of their periphery.

I can tell he's weighing his options.

He says, to stall for time, "What picture of Anna Nicole?"

I say, "The one on the desktop."

I see he's decided not to fight this one.

"Did you put it there?"


"Don't do that, okay? Don't cruise online and look at pictures and download them on to ours. It's not cool and it's certainly not something your sister and I want to see. It's degrading. Really. Do I need to get an Internet blocker or can you stay off of this stuff?" Was I covering all the bases? It was 10 o'clock and I didn't want to get into all the reasons why Anna Nicole as sex object was probably the reason she was dead now.

"Nah. You don't have to do that. Sorry."

Then we sat uncomfortably together watching the Twins lose another one against Detroit.

I remember as a kid my older brother came racing into my bedroom saying, "Look what I found, look what I found!" We ran into my parents' bedroom and he slid open the double closet doors and there in plain sight was the blue bicycle I had asked for for Christmas. It was December 15. I was seven. While I wrestled with the confusion this brought on--Did Santa deliver early? Did my parents pick things out for him to save him time and sled room?--my brother was pointing to a small stack of Playboys in the corner. A few years later I remember my mom finding one of them under the mattress in my brother's room.

I recently bought a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover, originally priced at 35 cents and carrying the tagline "Including the complete text of Federal Judge Frederick vanPelt Bryan's precedent-setting opinion on the censoring of this modern classic." This is where the judge said the novel is not obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent or filthy. He agreed that the novel "is a story symbolizing the basic superiority of natural impulses to the sophisticated immoralities of an inbred society."

I could leave a copy on my son's nightstand. I don't suppose the new Potter is going to cover this stuff.

In light of all this summer steamy, take note of a new Poetry event at the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul. The Erotic Poetry Slam is August 5. "Poets break out their best poetry about love, sex, and all things from sweet to naughty to downright perverse. Our side event will be the every popular ‘Dirty Haiku Battle’ and our features (from SlamMN) are Wonder Dave and Rhe. For info call (612) 207-7991."

Summer in the city. Enjoy the birds and the bees.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hot Eats, Cool Treats

At the ballfields Sunday I heard a girl ask her mom what they were having for dinner. The mom said, "Frozen pizza." Her daughter said, "Oh Mom, Gino and I had that for dinner Saturday night and we had it for lunch Friday, too." Gino, the rag-tag 7-year-old who would eat root beer twin pops for breakfast if he could, saw his chance to do some reprimanding, "Yeah, Mom, kids can't live on pizza alone. That's just not good for us."

The New York Times' Mark Bittman, the Minimalist, today features 101 simple summer recipes. He writes, "The pleasures of cooking are sometimes obscured by summer haze and heat, which can cause many of us to turn instead to bad restaurants and worse takeout. But the cook with a little bit of experience has a wealth of quick and easy alternatives at hand. The trouble is that when it’s too hot, even the most resourceful cook has a hard time remembering all the options. So here are 101 substantial main courses, all of which get you in and out of the kitchen in 10 minutes or less."

It's a good list and I think I'll make one of the recipes later tonight, before Top Chef. But it's also fun to scroll through the Reader's Comments on this article where readers respond with their own 10-minutes-or-less favorites. After a long string of quick eggs and pastas and sardine sandwiches there are these entries:


"What's with all the sardines?"

"I love the NYTimes. This is fun."



Go for a dip today

It's hot out there!

Summer in the city: St. Paul. Sally Hunt, 1927, St. Paul Dispatch, MHS Collections

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Not the Diet for a Small Planet

Pretty sure this is not what Frances Moore Lappe had in mind.

Still, it's summer in the city, Atlanta 2007.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Summer in the City

Here I am Monday morning, sunburned, stiff, fed, spent, happy. Summer in the city. My nose is so sunburned I think it looks a bit like Jimmy Durante’s—thin-skinned and a little raw. I used SPF 55 but was out in this gorgeous Minnesota weather all day, every day, from 6 a.m. until dark. We worked and played so hard at our house that we all fell sound asleep at night and snored a storm, and I imagined our house puffing in and out like a cartoon.

I love that my weekend started on Thursday, with a terrific happy hour at Pazzaluna in downtown Saint Paul: $3 Ketel One martinis with margherita pizzas for $3.33 each. We sat out on the busy sidewalk patio and talked about favorite drinks, favorite authors, and favorite work stories while the rush hour traffic rumbled by. I saw a man get on a bus and the back of his T-shirt read, “Ask Me About Jesus,” and I remembered him from one of my morning rides.

Sometimes a couple of martinis is just what the doctor ordered. Oi vay, though. Sometimes they sit in your body and toxify all your organs so that the morning after, even if you just have two, you feel like Keith Richards after a night with groupies at the Courthouse Hotel.

What better day than this to start in on my new training program for my August Quetico trip? Last year I went on my first Boundary Waters canoe adventure with a group of wilderness women and the same bunch is going again this year. We camped and canoed the border lakes in October and I fared just fine but I want more strength and stamina for our summer trip this time around. Last fall it was okay to collapse in the tent after dinner back in October—the cold weather made us all tired. It even snowed on us during one paddle. This year I want to go further and longer and still have energy to swim and play before bed.

So I started out Friday night with the old walk/run routine, jogging along Highland Parkway after dusk, no moon in sight, just the steeple from Gloria Dei shining bright, a cathedral of white in the night sky. (Remember when I interviewed for that job and all the Lutherans said to me, "Why you live right next to Gloria Dei." And I thought, "Gloria Day, who's she?")

I run late so no one will see me and think “Hey, isn’t that Tyne Daly out there? What, is she running or walking, I can’t tell?” Turns out some friends of ours passed me in their minivan and one of the kids apparently called out, “Hey, don’t we know that lady?”

It’s been so beautiful these mornings--65 degrees and all the day lilies are blooming. What is gardening in July? Deadheading, weeding, feeding all the potted plants, thinking about which plants are in too much sun, which ones haven’t had enough, tending, tending. Sunday morning I had this woodpecker chipping away at our oak (is it dying, our majestic oak?) while I snipped the bush roses, and I felt lucky to have this graceful space right here in the city.

We’re all reading new books in my family and after our long days in the sun, we sit together in the air conditioning with peach tea and fresh corn chips from El Burrito Mercado. Our books stereotype us: hubbie reads John Sandford, I read Canoe Country Camping, daughter reads Andrea Dworkin, and son catches up on the Harry Potter backlist until his Amazon shipment and the new Potter arrives July 22. It could be a scene right out of a Nora Ephron movie, except our books don’t altogether define us.

Last night my husband and daughter pulled out all the camping equipment and went over a checklist of things to bring with her on her trip this week. After a long day of baseball, my son and I read books until bedtime, propping our hardcovers on the coffee table like hymnals on the pew, looking over once and awhile at the two handling compasses and lanterns. One by one we say, I’m going to bed, Yeah, I’m going to bed, too, and before we know it the weekend is over. Summer in the city. Glory be this summer in the city.

(Rita's picture, a gift for my daughter)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Two Midwest Masters of Photography

passed away recently. For a tribute from the New York Times to Wisconsin photographer and longtime MOMA photography curator John Szarkowski, see here.

For an entry on the passing of Ted Hartwell, founding curator of photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, see Alec Soth’s blog entry here.

Mr. Anderson and son, near Sandstone, Minnesota, 1957
gelatin silver print; Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York © John Szarkowski

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More on this Words Into Type biz

From blogger Fussy in "Since we last spoke":

"What I was going to say was that I've been reading The New York Times -- you know, to get a feel for the local be-bop -- and in its Thursday Styles section I found possibly the best correction I have ever read in a newspaper's corrections column:

'An article last week about inexpensive dresses misstated the name of a clothing store on Broadway. It is Yellow Rat Bastard, not Dirty Yellow Bastard.'"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Let's meet those clever University of Chicago Press editors, then

Speaking of editing, here is yet another reason to love the versatile comma, from the Chicago Manual of Style website, Q and As of the month:

Q. Is there a rule that I’ve missed somewhere that says there should always be a comma before the word “then” if “then” is at the end of a sentence? For example: It’s settled, then. Sometimes it sounds fine; other times it seems more like an obstacle to the flow of the sentence. But a rule is a rule, so if you can point me to the correct section in CMOS, I’ll stop turning up my nose at this construction.

A. It’s dangerous to make a rule saying that you always have to put a comma in front of a particular word, so we avoid doing that. The trick is to determine whether a comma is needed. In the case of “then” it’s rarely needed when the word means “at that time”; it’s often needed when it means “in that case.” The comma shows the meaning:

Meet me at the hot tub then. (Then = at the appointed time.)

Meet me at the hot tub, then. (Then = so, it’s decided.)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Perfectly annoying desktop drum beats

Copy and paste this into your browser for some afternoon fun:


This was a good Monday. Got the buggers fixed on my slow computer, had a good brainstorming session with an author, did some photo editing, got this fun picture of my son's team, the 13U St. Paul Midway Bombers, ranked #1 in the state. They are a very likeable bunch, the perfect hardscrabble, have-a-blast-playing team (click on pic to enlarge; son T. is second from right).

But some days are nearly torture--sitting at a desk editing and marking and keying in hundreds of complex text corrections in an office without a window or any music.

When we all started getting computers at our desks in the eighties some of our designers played around with their sound alerts to break up a long day. One guy recorded an ennui-laden "bleah" for his Mac tone so that everytime he asked the computer to do something it couldn't do, the machine blurbed out this human response, in a voice sounding very much like Nicolas Cage: "Bleah." Then I recorded my daughter, who at the time was about three, saying, "Uh oh Mommy I don't think so," and that was pretty funny for awhile. About a day actually and then I had to take it off. It was creepy.

So here's a new time waster. Check it out. Try to do the beat to "We Will Rock You" and see if that doesn't drive your office mate batty.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

POM POMS #4: Ben Weaver

POM: Product, Person, or Place Of the Month

POMS: POM Story to go along with it, because I'll never recommend anyone or anything I don't know about firsthand. Unlike Patriot Radio, I do not run stories with prefaces like, "There's this terrible book, it's undermining all we believe in. Now I haven't read it, mind you, but here's why you shouldn't either."

Today I'm placing an all-family Amazon order, a midsummer treat. My son will get the last Harry Potter, my daughter wants the soundtrack from Once, and my husband is sorting through his wish list. I'm ordering the new CD from local Ben Weaver, Paper Sky.

I took a circuitous route to this artist. I had first read about him in The Rake (www.rakemag.com) and how he invited local poet √Čireann Lorsung to open for him at 7th Street Entry. From "The Green Room: Words Before Music":

"The applause bore on, however. And a few poems later, Lorsung acknowledged, “Oh, the clapping does fill the empty space. I go to all these readings and we don’t clap.” Earnestly, she posed a question of her audience: “Do you clap between songs?” Realizing she had revealed a certain uncoolness about herself, she added, “I go to a lot of concerts, you can tell.” The unlikely chain of events that led Lorsung to read her delicate works in this dungeon-like venue began earlier this year when St. Paul-based singer and songwriter Ben Weaver discovered her book, before it was even released, while considering printshops for his own just-published collection of poetry, Hand-Me-Downs Can Be Haunted. Lorsung’s book was given as a work sample. “I don’t know; I just read stuff and know whether I like it,” said Weaver, an avid reader and writer who favors the late Mississippi author Larry Brown as well as contemporary performing artist-filmmaker-writer Miranda July. Music for Landing Planes By is rather a playful, optimistic book, rich with appreciative passages about babies, birds, and ex-boyfriends. The book has a way of nudging forth a reader’s sense of wonder at the natural world. These themes struck a chord with Weaver.

"And so the celebrated twenty-seven-year-old troubadour, who vaguely resembles an unshaven teddy bear, began sending Lorsung compliments and other encouraging missives. While she was teaching in France last year, he suggested, via email, that she stop by the Rex, a Parisian dance club. He mailed her a copy of his fifth and latest CD, Paper Sky. In the end, Weaver invited Lorsung to be an opening act at his CD release concert at the Entry on May 11."

Later that month we met Weaver--and his charming toddler--at our neighborhood friend's high school graduation party. And soon thereafter we stopped by the Glockenspiel to catch up with instrumentalist Dave Boquist, who bartends there Sunday and Monday nights. He told us he had just toured in Europe with Weaver. Well, that clinched it.

I'll be watching the mail closely this week and hope you have a chance to check out Weaver, too.

Ben Weaver in Ekko Utrecht 3-6-2007

Friday, July 06, 2007

Dragging tail on Friday? Well here's a little more drag, just for you

(Courtesy Curtiss Anderson, Tiburon, CA)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Oh, the places we'll go

St. Paul to Bemidji, 245 miles.

Multi-modal vacation, scenes 1 to 7.

Scene #1: Minivan loaded with three men and a mom: 50-year-old husband, two teen boys, and me. Seriously, is there any reason we need to eat Gas-Station Lunch? Bean and cheese burritos warmed up in the microwave, cheese brat, teriyaki beef jerky, salted pistachios, orange soda, coffee. All in the Elvis-themed station in Leader, highway 64.

Best line of the drive, from Carlos, my son's friend whose family comes from El Salvador: "Who's Paul Bunyan?"

Scene #2: Teen son gets to drive the bumpy road to the grandparents' cabin, a family tradition. He pulls the front seat as far as it will go and sets hands at 10 and 2. Remember your first time behind a wheel?

I remember mine. My dad was trying to quit smoking so the shirt pocket he normally had filled with a hard pack of Winstons was empty, but every time I ground the gears he'd grab at his chest pocket, looking to calm his nerves and irritation at my bad driving.

My husband yammers at my son, "slow down, check your mirrors, don't get too close to the right, you could risk slipping off the dirt road, hover your foot over the brake on all the curves in case you have to stop." My son says "Dad, don't hound me." Hubbie says "I'm going to hound you and give you advice every time you get behind the wheel so get used to it."

Scene #3:

16-foot Lund with 25-horse Evinrude and trolling motor.

My dad lives with a woman, can you tell? What bachelor would go out in the fishing boat dressed in this get-up? My mom bought him the hat to save his neck, the glasses to save his eyes, and the bug juice and 45 spf sunscreen she's got rubbed all over him to save his skin.

Q: Do teen boys really like to fish?

A: Only if they catch some.

Scene #4: Canoeing in wet swimsuits without bug juice with a new batch of deerflies in the vicinity. If we connected the dots from the bites all over my son's body we'd have ourselves a new Escher print.

Scene #5: Nothing beats a good long walk in the woods. Max Perkins, editor extraordinaire, felt his greatest pleasure was in "losing himself on a long solitary stroll. A 'real walk' he used to call it. Alone, he would stride the same ground [in Vermont] his ancestors had before him" ("Max Perkins, Editor of Genius").

My vacation is not complete until I've had one of these long solo walks. I like to think about those early cabiners, those that stayed in the stone lodge on Gryce Styne or back behind the new power lines in log huts a ways off the water.

Scene #6: Driving my mom to town to cheer her up after she'd had a rough morning--perhaps a bit too much testosterone for her to handle in her cantankerous sixties. My mom was born in 1939 and is part of what Gail Sheehy calls the "Silent Generation." I was born just after the last of the Baby Boomers and am part of the so-called "Me Generation." But during this long ride into town, you'd never know it.

Scene #7: There is a guy who lives on the lake who invented the identity kit for kids, the one with the free fingerprinting archive at all the state agencies-- you know, that came out in Minnesota after Jacob Wetterling disappeared? That one, yes, well he invented it and got rich and puts on this fantastic fireworks show over the lake at night. Lasts over forty minutes and is actually as grand as any town fireworks I've ever seen. We all piled onto the pontoon and drifted over to the west end of the lake: the two boys in front, me in the middle, K. behind, Mom a little tipsy from too much wine, sitting behind Dad, who was at the wheel driving this old engine. We couldn't turn it off once we got close to all the other boats with their green night lights because sometimes it won't start up again. So we kept it in neutral and had the sputtering of the motor as backdrop to the sprays of gold and red and green bursts, the young loons crying out in the distance. After the fireworks we sputtered back again under the night sky--the Big and Little Dippers, Venus, and even a tiny satellite watched over us, each one of us resting our heads back against our seats, our eyes wide to this low and sparkly dome.