July 29, 2010

They Walk Among Us: Beware the Binaries

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays — Ann @ 12:35 pm

I am insatiably curious about human nature and human nurture. My idea of a good time is noticing how people act and react, choose and decline, give and receive. It’s a good pastime for one who has chosen psychology as her field of study.

And it’s also convenient for one who’s employed by a psychologist. I can bring to him my questions about my planet-mates’ behaviors; he’s exceedingly educated and experienced and, in the year I’ve been there, I’ve learned quite a bit. Which brings me to my reason for writing.

Today he and I were discussing the possibility of ‘private parking’ signs for the office lot, and I told him my experience of living so close to the Sonoma Plaza that on holiday or event weekends, some people park in our private driveway, or block it. I launched my favorite question: “Why would someone do that?”

His explanation may seem obvious to some, but for me it opened up an entirely new way of understanding. He explained that there move among us “binary thinkers,” whose sole consideration when it comes to decision-making is “Does this serve my needs?” And if the answer is yes — no matter what the consequences or how it might hurt other people — the binary thinker will choose that self-serving action. Because I and most everyone know are sensitive to the cultural and legal restraints which order our behavior, I am now fascinated by the Binaries, and intend to watch for signs that I am in their presence.

As we finished our conversation, I asked the doctor, “Now, how common is this type of thinking? Because, maybe it’s just me, but it feels rather–” he interrupted me with a smile and asked, “Rampant?” I was quick to reply, “No. But common.” He said it’s primarily the reasoning of narcissists and other self-absorbed individuals. So I guess much depends on how common narcissism is in 2010 America — or at least in my little corner of it.

Thankfully, my day-to-day experience still confirms that most people are thoughtful, giving and kind. And I love to study them as well. When my husband, Neal, was going through the worst of his illness, one of my friends kept supplying us with rolls of quarters to do our laundry. If I hadn’t been so caught up in gratitude and could have put on my psych-student’s hat in that moment, I would have grilled her: What made you think of such a perfect way to help out someone in need? How did you get to be so heart-brilliant?

Answers to these and many other questions about who we are await me in the psychology courses I’ll be starting next month. And, who knows, with enough education and training, I may even come to fully understand the Binaries. And how to keep them from parking in my driveway.

July 28, 2010

The Peanut Gallery Moment

Filed under: My Funny Valentine — Ann @ 11:59 am

I was sitting on the couch, deeply involved in a television drama; Neal was reading in our bedroom. At the height of the characters’ emotionally fraught discussion, Neal strolled in, crossing in front of the TV to get to his bookshelf, quite absorbed in his task. One character emoted to another, “You can’t adopt a child the way you buy a head of cattle!,” and without looking up, Neal, focused on his shelves, responded nonchalantly, “You can on eBay.”

I fell off the couch, laughing.

July 27, 2010

Some Acting Skills Required

Filed under: My Funny Valentine — Ann @ 6:08 pm

How to make a little fun at home: Supposing your spouse or partner is in the living room, oh, say, at the computer, and you’re in the kitchen making final dinner preparations. When announcing to said SoP the time remaining until the meal is ready, walk in and say loudly, “Six of your Earth minutes left until –” and then stop abruptly and look stricken before recovering your smile and saying with a blank smile, “I mean, six minutes ’til dinner.”

He howled.

July 26, 2010

Words and Pictures

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays — Ann @ 12:14 pm

Since I was a very young girl, my primary creative outlet has been with words. I had friends who could draw fabulous horses and cats; some who were talented in stitchery; still others who were the mini Paula Deens of the Easy-Bake Oven world. But I relied on my journals and poetry to express myself and into which I could pour my imagination and my artist’s soul.

That’s why it surprised me when, after my parents gave me my first-ever digital camera for my birthday last October, I found myself using it as a creative tool. I know how to reach out to people through my words; it had never occurred to me that I could speak to others through images.

I’m very much the beginner. I’ve not studied photography, nor am I familiar with the specifics of color, composition, et al. I may pursue those finer points as time and opportunity allow. But when I shared my spider-web photo on Facebook this morning, and a friend encouraged me to post it on my website, I realized that, perfect photos or not, I could use this blog to speak to readers not only through verbal observations, but through visual observations as well.

Therefore, I present here my very first photo gallery. I wouldn’t exactly call it Fine Art — but I can promise you it was Fun Art.

Spun Silk

Desert Shades

Psychedelic Bloom

Stark Beauty

Crossed by Light

Mirror Image

July 25, 2010

Geronimo’s Gifts

Filed under: About The Animals — Ann @ 9:26 am

Yesterday a new friend who is also a cat-”owner” (I prefer “steward”) asked me whether our cat, Geronimo, brings us “gifts.” You’re probably aware that when cat folks use that term, they’re referring to a cat’s predilection for bringing its people rats, mice, squirrels, frogs, lizards and/or various parts thereof. And yes, Geronimo has proudly presented us with more than his fair share of the local wildlife. In fact, if we don’t keep our living room window tightly shut, we will glance up from our reading to observe, in horror, as our beloved feline lunges into the room with a live (or dead) rat in his mouth.

But when my new friend posed this question yesterday, I smiled and told her the strange truth. In addition to his lost-collars which we thought were long gone but which Geronimo often brings back, months later, our beautiful bulls-eye tabby

Geronimo With Prayer Flags and Bracelet

has also brought us:

1) Tibetan prayer flags;
2) A brand-new blue-and-black woven friendship bracelet;
3) A rubber snake; and
4) Bikini bottoms.

His manner of presentation is always the same: we will hear him emit a very unusual cry at the living room window or the back door; when we respond, he’s either gently holding his gift or dropping it for our inspection.

At least one of my friends speculates that our poor cat is a kleptomaniac. I don’t know about that, but I am considering whispering requests into his fuzzy little ear. “Geronimo, see if you can find me $40,000 for graduate school.”

Really, is that any crazier than bikini bottoms?

July 24, 2010

The Half-Minute Helping Moment

Filed under: Neighborhood Sights,Random Thoughts — Ann @ 7:28 am

The Safeway parking lot was quite full; I parked at the end of a long row. As I walked toward the store, a man finished trunk-stashing his groceries and began the long trek to return his cart to the front of the building. Without thinking I said, “I’m on my way in; let me take that for you.” His face flashed surprise, gratitude; a smile, acceptance: “Sure! Thanks!”

As I shoved his metal bag-buggy into the cart-holder, it occurred to me that we shoppers could be doing this for each other all the time, forming these grocery cart brigades. A simple act of assistance; it made someone else’s life easier for 30 seconds.

July 16, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemonade

Filed under: Neighborhood Sights — Ann @ 11:19 am

I ended yesterday’s neighborhood walk as the afternoon approached its hottest and I was, to put it delicately, damp. Still a good half-mile from home and striding purposefully toward the finishing line of my front door, I saw a group of adults and children on the sidewalk — since I usually walk in the street, they presented no block to me. But, as I passed, I saw that the kids had a table and a Coleman cooler set up and, sure enough, they yelled out, “Wanna buy some lemonade?! Twenty-five cents!” I explained apologetically that I don’t carry money when I walk. Because I’d just heard on the news that BP had finally capped the months-long gush, I said to the adults, “Did you hear the news? The oil leak is finally capped!”

As the news sank in, the three adults made happy noises and, suddenly, the oldest girl-child said, “You can have the lemonade for free if you want.” Now, I don’t know if she was taking pity on my sweaty self, or whether my sharing the good news had filled her with the ade of human kindness, or whether she just wanted the chance, finally, to share her drink with someone (how good could the summertime-drink business be in this economy?), but I certainly wasn’t going to say no. Stepping forward I said, “Sure, that’d be great! Let’s see how good this is.”

The three children worked in harmony to fix the cup of lemonade: one getting the ingredients out of the cooler, one grabbing a cup, and one handing me their finished product with the adorable endorsement of, “It’s tangy, but it’s good.” And she was right — it was just what I needed in that shimmering heat. As I thanked them, one of the adults, obviously a mother, said, “Well, you know, it’s not really free. You have to now do something nice for someone else….you have to pay it forward.”

Bear in mind that it wasn’t the little girl who attached this string to the gift — it was one of the adults; that makes a difference in setting forth the following. Because, for me, this is one of those life-moments when my brain shoots off in a thousand different directions, like a schizophrenic fireworks display. You have to admit, there are so many varied reactions one could have to being quoted a line from a wretched Helen Hunt movie and having it proffered as moral imperative. I have a few dear but cynical friends who might think, “It’s lemonade, get over yourself, lady” and they could not be faulted. Or one could think, “What a great idea, I love this woman!” and one could not faulted. Or one could rest somewhere between those two poles. Frankly, I’m still not sure how I feel about it but, thankfully, since recently giving myself permission to Not Have An Opinion As To Everything, I realize I can just let it wash over me like a summer lawn sprinkler.

And so, in that moment, I said, “Sure, I can do that!” I haven’t yet figured out what my pay-it-forward act will be (a deal is a deal, after all — I must come through). Maybe I’ll just walk back down there today and give them five bucks. But something tells me that more than that is expected of me, and perhaps I should keep searching. I’ll keep you posted.

July 9, 2010

Why You Need to Watch “Firefly” and “Serenity”

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays — Ann @ 10:10 am

Well, not all of you. If your bookshelves are chunked full of science fiction novels; if you know who Joss Whedon is; if you were hooked on “Buffy;” if you’ve ever been thought “weird” and deemed it a compliment; if you love(d) westerns and/or Roddenberry; if you’ve ever gotten chills (or cried) upon encountering a perfectly-written line of dialog….you may be the target audient. But, truly, the last criterion is the most important: I didn’t read a science fiction book until age 35, yet I’m a rabid devotee of the cancelled TV series Firefly and its follow-up film, Serenity.

Descriptives of series and film include intelligent, clever, quirky, witty, creative, unusual, interesting, challenging, exciting — and did I mention intelligent? Joss Whedon is a writer/director who does not talk down to his audience. He even gives us some new vocabulary (“shiny” for “cool,” “okay, “fine”) and Chinese profanity, and trusts that we will intuit the meaning contextually. He also incorporates themes of belief, love, honor, loyalty, and all those other high-falutin’ but essential values in a unique way that almost plays as afterthought, until you realize they’re the messages we’ve been delivered all along.

Bear with me while I provide the necessary background, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“…is set in the year 2517…and follows the adventures of the renegade crew of Serenity, a ‘Firefly-class’ spaceship. The ensemble cast portrays the nine characters who live on Serenity. The show explores the lives of people who fought on the losing side of a civil war who now make a living on the outskirts of the society, as part of the pioneer culture that exists on the fringes of their star system [and] two surviving superpowers, the United States and China, fused to form [one] government…the Alliance.”

But in 2002, Firefly was cancelled after only 11 of 14 episodes were aired. Whedon then wrote a script for a 2005 film-sequel, Serenity. He credits the loyal fan base for getting the movie made.

“…Earth’s resources have been depleted and humanity has moved to another star system. The inner planets are controlled by the totalitarian Alliance while a frontier justice holds sway farther out. A young girl questions the Alliance’s practices. She is River, a psychic who is being mentally and physically conditioned by the Alliance. She is rescued by her brother, Simon. An Alliance agent, the Operative, is assigned to track down River before she can reveal government secrets. River and Simon become passengers on the Firefly-class transport ship Serenity…”

So, why do you need to see this?

First, the characters:

Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), scruffily handsome and brooding. There’s a “Casablanca” Rick-ness to Mal: he doesn’t believe in anything except himself. Or does he? He’s an agitated maverick and we sense a deep longing. His speech is Old West slang with a soupcon of colorful Chinese. He’s a jerk; is he also a hero?

Zoe (Gina Torres), Mal’s second-in-command. Fierce, loyal, no-nonsense, tough and toned and ten types of strong. Hotly in love with her husband:

Wash (Alan Tudyk), the ship’s pilot. He’s the comic relief and he’s amazingly good at it.

Inara (Morena Baccarin), a “Companion,” which is the courtesan of the future. She is our hooker with the heart of gold, yet to describe her in those terms is to degrade something lovely: she raises prostitution to the level of art; she walks, talks, and lives quiet elegance. She makes women want to be her friend; she makes men just want.

Jayne (Adam Baldwin), the tough guy. Strong, sneering, snotty, untrustworthy, armed and dangerous — the guy you want with you on a dangerous mission — but keep him in your sights just the same. Dumb as donuts.

Kaylee (Jewel Staite), Firefly’s adorable, beguiling, sweet-souled mechanic. She lovingly tends to her ship and longs to lovingly tend to one of its passengers.

Simon (Sean Maher), a passenger. A brilliant doctor. He has one purpose: to save his genius-telepathic sister from the Alliance, who seek her because she knows the Terrible Secret which, if got out, could destroy Alliance credibility and severely undermine its power. Finding out what this Secret is drives much of the plot of the Serenity film.

River (Summer Glau), the sister. When you watch Serenity for the fourth time — and you just might — spend a lot of time watching how she moves. Graceful and smooth, she’s a ballet and, we discover, a potentially lethal one.

Shepherd Book: “Shepherd” is a title, a minister. Wikipedia says “Book represents Mal’s guide, conscience, and lost spirituality, while his hidden backstory was to have been gradually revealed, had the series continued.” You see, he, too, has secrets, which lend him an aura of mystery which enhances his pious wisdom. Played to holy perfection by Ron Glass (Sgt. Harris in “Barney Miller”).

Oh yes, and there are Bad Guys. Really, truly, horrifying Bad Guys called Reavers whose methods and madness will shock you. Whedon is no fool; he doesn’t show the Reavers doing what we are told they are capable of; with Hitchcockian wisdom, he gives us just a glimpse and lets our wicked imaginations do the rest. Then there’s The Operative, icy and malevolent (played by the inimitable Chiwetel Ejiofor, currently co-starring in Angelina Jolie’s “Salt”). The Alliance sends him after River and because we know he’s driven and unstoppable — a compassionless madman with a mission — we fear for her.

My husband Neal and I Netflixed Firefly because we’d told a bunch of friends we’d just finished watching all seven seasons of “Deep Space Nine,” loved the show, and were hankering for some more well-written, exciting, mind-messing entertainment. Everyone told us: Watch all 14 episodes of Firefly, then rent the movie Serenity. And we did. And now you must, too.

If you do, and if you watch and listen carefully, you will be richly rewarded. Both move at a fast pace; trust the writers and the director to take you where you need to go. Know that you aren’t just investing time in entertainment; you are becoming part of a world which you will never forget. I envy you your first encounter with it. Netflix awaits.

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