Cat Sitting

Because I am now cat sitting for two different people, at two different houses, for five different cats, I thought I should post something that reflects my slow descent into the world of cat ownership.

This is what I may become.

Oscar Gowns

It’s happening.  This blog will temporarily be concerned with fashion, something I never thought it would be concerned with (I am strictly a v-neck and jeans girl).  But as I have obnoxiously strong opinions concerning the Academy Awards in general, and as said opinions trickle down to include actress attire, I’m going for it.

In no particular order, here are my favorite Oscar dresses (from 2005-present, because 2005 was when I began watching religiously):

Vera Wang. I think part of the reason I love this dress so much is that Michelle simply looked so happy in it. She and Heath attended the ceremony together, they were smiling and laughing, and all was right in the world.

1950s Dior. Reese Witherspoon won best actress for Walk the Line in this dress.

Guy Laroche. I tend to think the simpler the better when it comes to evening gowns. I tend to think that surprising details keep a simple dress from being boring. I also tend to think that if you spend months training to be a boxer in Million Dollar Baby, you deserve to show off some skin.

Balenciaga. I remember a lot of people, mostly people more well-spoken in the fashion world than I, hated this dress. I think it’s perfect on her. The color is great and the bow in the back adds interest.

Jean Paul Gaultier. She won best actress in this dress as well. I see a trend here.

Badgley Mischka

Valentino. This is possibly my all-time favorite. The colors are lovely together, and the draping is exquisite.

Vintage Balmain. Maybe it does look a little like a wedding dress, but I’m going to let that go.

Elie Saab. The color makes this dress for me, although I’m not a fan of the slightly shredded-looking edges.

Elie Saab. It’s brave, I think, to wear a patterned evening gown, and this one reminds me of a Monet painting.

Lanvin. Once you get past the brillo pad material, this dress has a modern elegance to it that Natalie Portman pulls off perfectly, headband and all.

Armani Prive. It’s simple, it’s 60s, it’s fun. What more can you ask for?

Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain

We’ve all wondered about the Man Behind the Curtain at the movie theatre, haven’t we?  Who’s watching from the projection booth, we ask?  Who sees when we make out with our significant other in the back row?  Who frowns down on us when we pull a box of Walmart Charleston Chew from our purse? Who knows when we put our feet on the seat in front of us, when we spill popcorn and neglect to pick it up, when we’re on our cell phones for the duration of the movie?

The answer, from this point on, must of course be me, although having done much of the above myself, I assure you I won’t judge too harshly.

You see, last night I worked my first shift as a projectionist-in-training.

I have photos to prove it (sorry about the poor quality; it was dark in the room):

Here’s the projection room. It’s small and very hot, due to the large, very hot equipment filling it. As you can see, the theatre I work at uses old-school film reels instead of digital projection. We’re working on raising the money for digital, but until then, I feel lucky to have a chance to learn the old ways of the reel before it’s gone forever.

The projector. In case you’re not sure how it works, a projector basically shines bright, intense light from an inner-located bulb through film that is moved rapidly in front of it.  The scenes printed on the film are then projected onto the screen.

In order for the film to keep moving quickly and steadily, it is threaded through a series of gates at the front of the projector. If something goes wrong, and the film slips out of place, the gates will catch it and stop the movie so that the projectionist can make necessary adjustments.

After being threaded through the gates, the film is unrolled across the room to be threaded over and under several pulleys. The clear film, which I call leeway film (not its proper name), is film with nothing printed on it that is attached to the black movie film. The clear film is what is initially threaded through the gates and pulleys; if it gets a little crumpled in the process, no part of the actual movie is damaged.

The turntable (again, probably not its official name). The large roll of movie film sits on the middle tier. As the movie plays, the film unrolls from the middle, runs through the projector, and rolls back through the pulley system and onto the top tier.

Rolls of film that are mailed to us by the film companies, and then sent back when we’re done with them.

To my delight, I received a short history lesson as I was being trained. The theatre was built in 1940, and at that time, film was extremely flammable. Pair that with hot bulbs, and you have a huge fire hazard. Aware of this, projection rooms were designed carefully: if you look at the first photo in the post, you can see small brown windows with attached doors that fall shut if the string holding them up is released (the window is down in the photo). If a fire broke out, the idea was that it would burn through the string, closing the windows and preventing the flames from spreading to the rest of theatre. Along the same lines, the heavy door to the projection room (shown in the above photo) was also attached to an elaborate system of strings and pulleys, which would release when burned, causing the door to slam shut. Old-time projectionists, then, were told to leave the equipment and save themselves in a fire; if they didn’t hurry out of the room, they would be barred in by the shut door and windows.  Needless to say, things are a lot safer nowadays.  Flame-resistant film is standard.

This has nothing to do with projection, but this is where we keep the letters for the marquee. Sometimes we’ll run out of black, and then whoever’s turn it is to scale the ladder to switch the film title has to make do with the odd red letter instead.

A carton of movie posters for upcoming films. It took all of my willpower not to snatch one to hang up in my bedroom.

The sole screen at my theatre. Despite severely limited seating, no moviegoers (to my knowledge) have ever been left out in the cold, even at the final Harry Potter premiere, when the line wrapped all the way around the corner of the building, so that the last poor sop was jammed up against the ATM at the bank. It’s actually kind of magical in that everyone somehow manages to squeeze in.

War Novels

1/2 cup oats, 1/2 cup skim, dash of vanilla (I don’t know that the vanilla adds much flavor, but it’s fun to put in), small spoon of brown sugar, and many, many frozen berries.  Nuke for 2.5 minutes, and then add a spoon of peanut butter on top.

The food bloggers tell me the peanut butter is for protein, but I mostly like the way it melts and puddles over the entire bowl.  And yes, this oatmeal does keep me full for a good four hours.  I could likely run a triathlon on this oatmeal (given I had teammates to do the swimming and biking (Mom??)).

I’m eating said bowl of power oatmeal on our front porch, watching the heat creep up in shimmering waves.  It never did storm last night, despite my dramatics.

Both of my grandfathers served in WWII, but I don’t personally know anyone who has died serving their country.  I know I’m lucky in that regard, and this fine Memorial Day, I’m feeling extremely grateful to all of the American men and women who have served and lost their lives as a result.  Sitting legs crossed, oatmeal bowl propped against Mac, it’s hard for me to imagine ever doing anything that brave.  Mostly, I suppose I like to read about acts of heroism, real or fictional.

Here’s a list of war books I’ve read and enjoyed (as much as one can enjoy such a book):

1.  The Book Thief.  Friends, I don’t know that you’ve been lucky enough to listen to one of my rants concerning this book.  It’s easily the book I most often recommend to other people.  The force of my recommendations have even tended toward the creepy.  Think slipping a copy into someone’s house via cat flap.  It’s that good.  It’s about a girl who steals books against a Nazi Germany backdrop.  Simple enough, but when you consider that the book is narrated by death, and that the format of the book is perhaps one of the most unusual and most poignant you’ve ever come across, you realize that the magnitude of the story is much greater than you initially thought.  Ignore the fact that the book is shelved under “young adult.”  It should be shelved under “everyone.”

2. All Quiet on the Western Front.  This was one of the books we discussed in my “Atrocity and Modernism” literature class.  I took the class while studying abroad in Salzburg last fall.  It’s the story of a group of German friends who are pushed to war by their parents, and by their schoolteacher because war is viewed as a glorious, noble venture.  The young men quickly realize that the glories of war are far overshadowed by the traumas, by the tragedies, and by one’s inability to ever go back to one’s prewar life.  This book was gathered and burned in Nazi Germany for depicting war in a negative fashion.

3. The Red Badge of Courage.  I hated this book when I was forced to read it in 8th grade.  The only thing I liked was that we got to choose scenes to act out and film.  I remember staggering about the schoolyard, pretending to be a shot and delirious Jim: “No-no-don’t tech me-leave me be-leave me be.”  As 8th graders will, we seemed to have more bloopers than actual solemn footage in our video.  It was shocking, when, three years later, I was assigned the book in an American literature class.  It was devastating when, saturated in the newness of college, I was assigned the same old book my freshman year.  Admittedly, I grew to like it a little bit, mostly because the protagonist, Henry, is so darned relatable.  He’s stuttering, he’s scared, he’s desperate for glory but not brave enough to grasp it.  He thinks, in short, the way I’m sure many, many Civil War soldiers thought.

4. For Whom the Bell Tolls.  This is the first (and last, at this point) Hemingway I ever picked up of my own power.  It was a struggle at times, but it’s difficult, as much as I sometimes want to, to dislike Hemingway.  He has an economy of words that is truly admirable.  And what’s even more admirable, the story doesn’t suffer for lack of telling.  Placed during the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls depicts American dynamiter Robert Jordan’s quest to blow up an enemy bridge.

5. The English Patient.  I read this book long before seeing the movie, and although the two are entirely different in form, the basic feel is the same.  They are about a badly burned and dying man who is taken care of by a Canadian nurse in an Italian villa.  Also living in the villa is a mysterious thief who claims connection to the patient, and an Indian who’s job it is to defuse the hundreds of mines embedded in the surrounding countryside.  The story is a twisting series of flashbacks that reveal the characters’ roles on the Northern African World War II front.  It’s a lovely heartbreaking story, and for once, I think I can recommend both book and the film equally.

6. John Adams.  Another book I’ll recommend until I’m blue in the face.  Yes,  it’s technically a life-spanning biography, and not a war novel, but as John Adams played such a large role in the American Revolution (the instigation of, and the recovery from), and since so much of the book deals with said Revolution, I’m happily including it here.  Best biography I’ve ever read.  Hands down.  If you know who David McCullough is, I’m sure you know why: The extent of his research is enormous, and he arranges it masterfully so that the book reads not only as a chain of life-defining events, but as a thorough character study.  With this biography, I am converted; John Adams will forever remain my favorite Founding Father.  Because despite his  learning, his admirable sense of justice, and his ever-expanding ambition, Adams could be pompous, foolish, and stubborn.  He knew it, too.

7.  Gone With the Wind.  Everyone should read this at least once in their lives.  I think it’s expected that the novel is sentimental, telling of the terribly beautiful Scarlett O’Hara and her 1000-page-long pining for the married Ashley Wilkes (while all readers root for Rhett Butler instead).  What’s unexpected is how accurate a portrayal of the Civil War it is.  No history class I’ve ever taken has done better.  Battles are described in desperate fury, and even more memorably, the destruction of the South is depicted from a Southern point of view.

8.  Little Women.  I’ve read this book once a year since I was in third grade.  So I’m at about thirteen reads.  This is another novel that isn’t quite a war novel, but that concerns war enough for me to include it here. Little Women  is about four girls growing up during the Civil War: their struggles, their triumphs, their first dealings with wealth and love and adulthood.  Despite my thirteen readings, I seem to find some new bit of commentary every time I read through.

9.  Atonement.  I was really going to stop at 8, but then I remembered Atonement.  It’s about a lie told when one is a child, and how that lie comes to haunt people, and to impact their lives for years to come.  Written by the always good Ian McEwan, this book is on Time Magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Novels.  It deals with WWII, both the fighting and the nursing parts of it.  Warning: the ending will rip your heart out, but it’s very, very worth the read.

Storm Approaching

Looking up from Mac to see that the sky had turned suddenly, frighteningly dark, I just walked outside to stand on the front steps and survey the oncoming storm.

The wind had died down, and hardly a leaf stirred.  Instead, they seemed to curl into themselves, seeking shelter in fragile stems and thin branches.

Now, back on my bed inside, I can feel the storm changing the pressure in my ears, slowly creeping over the house; it will situate itself perfectly before it strikes.

In the meantime, I’ll be trading summer shorts and sandals for a sweatshirt and a blanket shawl.  I’ll be reading Tom Sawyer with a flashlight, and making a cup of tea in the microwave.

I’ll be constantly, obsessively, checking the online weather radar.



Grad School

After a few days of sore throat, I woke up this morning with a fever, and a desire to never leave bed again.

I called in sick for work, and then I slept for five more hours.

Then I felt better.

Better enough, in fact, to pick a GRE testing site, register for a date and time, and continue my grad school research.

It’s frightening, this search for a grad school.  More so than my undergraduate search was.     Probably because the programs are tougher, they’re specific, they require huge personal statements and the submission of huge academic essays, and the one I choose will likely be my home for the next several years, assuming I chug straight through both the masters and Ph.D programs in one go.

Luckily, I seem to become surer every day that this is what I want to do with my life.  I’ve always loved school, and since I entered college, I’ve become fascinated with the academic world.  The prospect of spending my life researching, writing books and papers, and discussing literature and writing, is glorious to me.

But first-there is more cat sitting to be done.

As We Become So Wise

As I’ve mentioned, I work in the Social Science Division Office on campus.  I was thinking, as I worked, about one of the professors in the division, who seems to greatly enjoy talking about his own accomplishments.  He’s nice enough, but he’ll complain and complain about how he doesn’t get enough recognition for all of the research and writing he does, and how he’s surpassed every academic in his field.  I never know how to reply to this talk, especially when it comes from someone older than me.  I wonder if I’ll ever fail to be surprised when my elders are as petty as people my age?

Later on in the afternoon, as I alternating thumbing through file folders and sliding papers through the copier, another professor came to do some stapling at the counter next to me.  I’ve had her for a few classes, and she’s one of my favorites.  We chatted, and she mentioned that some ideas she had published in a book had recently been used in another academic’s paper without due credit.  She was clearly upset about it, but said that she was trying to ‘let it lie.’

As she left to return to her office, she added, “So you see we never get over our ego and fits of peeve even as we become so wise.”