Tuesday, July 31, 2007

French Comedy+Desi Playwright =Everybody Wins!

My university has never staged a play by an Asian playwright. Not in over 75 years. We've hit all of the other continents (except Antarctica, of course... I don't believe there are any Antarctican playwrights, but I could be wrong). But somehow we've left out Asia.

So when I started planning the Hyderabad trip, nearly a year ago, I told my faculty committee that I wanted to stage a play by an Indian (or Indian-American/desi) playwright when I came back.

It would, after all, be a first for the university, and if we marketed it correctly, we had the potential to tap into a large desi audience.

We tossed around the idea for months, analyzing the pros and cons.

One of the cons -- the one that made the season selection committee the most nervous -- was that our department had no desi acting students
, and things might get a little racially tidgy if we had white students playing brown characters.

I countered with "well, you don't have to do Muggy Night in Mumbai -- if we did one of the kajillion plays based on a section of the Mahabharata, we could pull a Peter Brook and cast anyone we like."

And, theoretically, color-blind casting should work the other way around (although, truth be told, it rarely works the way it was intended to -- and one of these days I'll do a post on why).

But in the end, and probably for the best, we elected not to pursue this option.

When the season was chosen, I was given Moliere's Tartuffe. Which will be fun; it will be my first "comedy of manners" play, and there is plenty of opportunity for glittery silliness.

As the director, of course, I get to choose the translation.

Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered there was a verse translation of Tartuffe by Ranjit Bolt.

Looks like my university gets its first desi playwright after all.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Blue Feels Blue

Hi, team... looks like today I'm down for the count with some kind of stomach bug. It may have been related to a recent trip to the movie theater and the fact that I purchased movie-theater-nachos. (When I ordered them, the woman behind the counter handed me a plastic container full of chips and directed me to a self-serve "cheez" machine against the wall, where I was to squirt out my own orange-colored, room-temperature goo.)

I felt badly enough to stay home from temping, which -- when one considers I didn't miss a moment of work when I had Neha's flu, or the day after I got my India vaccinations and I was sitting in my cube shivering and trying to adjust to four different low-grade virus strains -- means I must be feeling pretty darn awful.

(I am the sort of person who doesn't vomit well. My sister, who grew up getting carsick, pukes in stride; I generally crumple to the floor and cry out for higher powers to "make it stop.")

But my inner critic keeps rearing its ugly head, to remind me of my current low status in both the economic and working worlds, and to ask why I am claiming a privileged status (that is, taking a "sick day") when I have not yet earned that privilege (that is, having a job which offers paid sick days).

In short, it's reminding me that plenty of working people drag themselves to work when they are far sicker than I am; and, as 50 percent of American workers do not have paid sick leave, there is no reason for me to expect that I ever will, even when I move on to a job beyond temping.

My inner critic is saying "get out of bed and get yourself into that office, if only to practice for the future."

After all, losing a day's pay is losing a day's pay ($48, in my case, after taxes) and I can't justifiably say that I don't need the money, not when I have a plane ticket to Hyderabad I've got to pay off.

But I've also slept about fourteen hours out of the last seventeen, and even drinking water makes my stomach spin.

So chalk me up as a member of the Entitlement Generation. I'm staying home.

(Editor's Note: It did occur to her that if she could quantitatively prove that it was the movie theater nachos that made her ill, she could sue the theater and recoup her $48. But she's never sued anyone before, and she leaves the country in a matter of days. So she'll go back to sleep and hope for the best.)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

By Jove... no, sorry, I can't.

Okay. In the past year or so, I have fallen in love with a great many things... lime pickle, Shahrukh Khan, Carnatic music, Malgudi Days, Amit Chatterji, etc.

But I have to draw the line at P. G. Wodehouse.

I don't get it. I mean, I do -- there's this guy, and his butler, and they keep trying to pull off these crazy schemes -- but I just... it just.. um... I don't find it funny.

Of course, I do find "mmmm... donuts" extremely funny, so maybe it says something about my sense of humor.

I've got my flame-retardant blue jeans on, so retaliate away!

Recent posts in favor of Wodehouse:

Ash's post
Falstaff's post

My Less Impressive Frozen-Naan Cheesy Spinach Melt

DesiPundit linked to a beautiful chapati pizza cooked by Indira at Mahanandi.

Yeah, I do that sometimes too.

But somehow it doesn't look qu
ite as good.

Tasted fine, though.

Once again have to give the shout-out to how much I adore spinach.

(And Daniel, I plated this one twice
to see which plate coordinated better. You tell me!)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mom!

My mother shares her birthday with the opening of the Simpsons film. ^__^

She is totally cool and doesn't comment half as much on this blog as she should.

(Stop lurking, mom!)

I hope she got her present in the mail...

Simpsons Day: Paint It Yellow!

I know, Harry Potter got an entire week and the Simpsons only get a day. Which is funny because I like the Simpsons much, much, much more than I like Harry Potter. (Eight years ain't got nothing on eighteen, after all, and I grew up with the Simpsons but was only introduced to Mr. Potter in my later life.)

Anyway, here's another image to add to my collection of "can I make it look like me?" avatars:

Make your own here!

BTW -- heard Apu has only a line or two in the film. I'll be interested to find out what his particular lines are. We can probably guess what one of them will be.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

One More Note on Miss Junie B.

Please examine the opening paragraph of the NYT article.

At her all-day princess-theme party for her graduation from preschool, Lyra Alvis had her face painted, went first down the water slide and was even allowed to eat the flower on the cake. "It was the best day of my life," said Lyra, 5, who lives in Nashville.

At least until bedtime. That is when her father, Lance Alvis, did something he?d never done before: Midway through a book that was a gift from a friend, he insisted she pick out something different to read.

"But I love this book," Lyra said.

The paperback in question was about Junie B. Jones...

So this kid got an ALL-DAY PRINCESS PARTY for her graduation from preschool, to which her little friends were asked to BRING GIFTS.


I would say that learning how to read/speak/write will be the least of this kid's problems.

Junie B. Jones Will Fail Freshman Comp (actually, given grade inflation, she'll probably get a B, but that's another topic for another time)

I haven't done a post on education in a long time. I suppose I've been away from the classroom.

But an article in today's NYT caught my eye, and I may be inspired to write my first ever letter back to them.

The article is about parents who wish to ban the Junie B. Jones books, or -- at the least -- prevent them from ever falling into their own children's hands.

Junie B. is a spunky little seven-year-old who has thus far narrated 27 short books about her life and adventures. I've actually read one of her books, because I was curious to know what the fuss was all about.

Parents want to protect their children from Junie B. for three reasons: 1. she disobeys authority, 2. she answers back to people, and 3. she uses nonstandard (or "incorrect") spelling and grammar.

Most of the focus is on #3. This actually delights me, because I am so impressed that parents are concerned that a book might cause their children to absorb poor English.

The NYT and Sample English Doctoral Student Jill Ratzan -- were they really only able to find a grad student to give the expert testimony??? -- deflect the argument as follows:

Just because they read "funnest" doesn't mean they'll learn to say that. I've never heard a kid speak in a Yorkshire accent because they read The Secret Garden or say "Have you any wool?"

(Obviously Ratzan never knew a kid like me, or my sister, or my best friend from elementary school. We used to play Secret Garden and Little Women and all of that and would imitate the dialogue incessantly.)

But Ratzan seems to be missing the mark here. She's only making the connection between reading and speech.

Most people, when put to it, can speak. Speech, and its associated grammatical patterns, are easily absorbed. They're absorbed because we are surrounded by speech.

But there is another, equally important connection: that between reading and writing. I've taught my fair share of undergrads who can speak without any lapses in grammar or syntax, but cannot write a coherent paragraph.

And, strangely enough, there seems to be a missed connection between the two. When undergrads visit my office hours to ask about ways to improve their papers, I often have them read the first several sentences aloud. Or I pick a particularly mangled sentence and ask them to read it.

"Do you hear what is wrong?"

A few get it, but many say "no." Then I ask them to tell me what they are trying to say with the sentence. The spoken result is nearly always clearer than the written one.

My point is that speaking well seems to be a separate activity from writing well; that many people grow into adulthood learning how to speak coherently, but far fewer seem to grow up learning how to write eloquently and understandably.

And this, I think, has a direct correlation with what is read in childhood. We learn about semicolons, for example, by experiencing them; by reading them, becoming immersed in them, and finally understanding (on an intuitive level rather than a punctuation-test one) how they are used.

(Learning about grammar in ninth grade is about as useful as learning about French; it will rarely be mastered that late.)

And Junie B. does not use semicolons, or parallel structure, or subject-verb agreement. But Ramona does, as do Anne and Alice and Tom Sawyer. Even the Babysitters' Club provides readers with clearly presented ideas, even if the ideas themselves are a little dim.

(BTW -- the NYT poses the argument that Tom and Huck used slang and incorrect English and somehow generations of kids turned out all right. But Tom, at least, had Twain as omniscient narrator, telling about his adventures in slightly more standardized prose so that his comical errors might become even more prominent and pointed. Huck, as the sequel, lets Mr. Finn promenade his English-butchering exploits but assumes, perhaps, that the reader is already familiar with the regularities of the language and thus can enjoy the fun.)

I'm not at all advocating banned books. I would be the last person to suggest banning a book. I might suggest, instead, that publishers stop publishing the equivalent of literary junk food, but I can't even justify doing that because I am such a fan of the biggest junk food of all (comics).

So I suppose I can only suggest that perhaps the parents have it right -- that they should limit their children's exposure to Junie B. Give them Ramona instead; they're essentially the same stories (young girl gets into silly mishaps) but much better written. And any kid who can read at a Junie B. level can read Ramona the Pest.

What do you all think? And for the members of Team Parent: what have you done with your children to encourage reading, and what books have you promoted?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pretty Blue's Voice

Thanks to the additional technology I've... um... imported into my laptop, I can record audio files and share them with whomever I want.

Which means you.

Anyway, it's interesting for me to listen to people's voices for the first time, or to match voices to images or voices to text. It always surprises me, a little. I never expected Garrison Keillor, for example, to look like Garrison Keillor -- his voice seemed to suggest someone soft and pillowy and rounded, but Mr. Keillor is so angular and craggy and off-putting.

So, if you're interested, you may hear my voice below. If you'd rather not have the way my writing voice sounds "in your mind" distorted by the way I actually sound, then obviously don't click it. But I bet you will. It's less than a minute long, and you're curious. ^__^

Click here to hear!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

hi i have skype why is no one calling me RIGHT NOW????!!!!!

So I downloaded Skype and am going to force my family to do the same... free calls in India WOOT!!!!!!

(Also am jumping up and down at the cuteness of WeeMees.)

Anyway. Now that I have this microphone, it also means that my laptop is configured for audio recording, which means that I can participate in Librivox and help turn public domain books into audio texts. I've fallen in love with Librivox and have been listening nearly constantly during my temp job. And, as my younger sister knows, one of my favorite things to do is read aloud to people. (My sister was the willing -- sometimes unwilling -- subject for hours and hours of narrated text. We did the entire Streatfeild set, as well as The Westing Game and a lot of Roald Dahl.)

Or maybe it means I could start giving podcasts! Aren't those supposed to be cool?

Anyway. Am off to play with new technology now.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What Present Can I Bring For My Host's Kids?

I've been thinking about what kind of presents to bring with me to Hyderabad for my hosts and for the people at the university who have helped me out.

I asked S., and he said the customary gift was a really nice inkpen. I... um... can't afford that, especially not times the number of people who would need one.

I asked my host if there was anything I could bring, and he named a few textbooks he would like to read, so I ordered them off of Amazon Marketplace and got a few extra titles to distribute to the dean, the faculty member who signed my recommendation, etc.

And for my host's wife, I've got a lovely candle in a pretty holder. One can never have too many candles, yes? (If this is a bad gift, please let me know -- I'll exchange it.)

As for my host's children -- I didn't want to get individual gifts because of my whole lack of income thing, so I thought it would be fun to get them all a game they could play together. But I didn't want something that was so saturated in American idioms or trivia that it would be difficult or frustrating to play (eg. "Junior Trivial Pursuit" or any of those damn Cranium things).

So I was thinking I should get them Jenga. Everybody loves Jenga, right? Plus it's completely spatial and requires no text -- it can be played as easily in Telugu as it can in English. ^__^

Here's the question: is this something that middle-class Hyderabadi children would already have? I have no idea if Hasbro has infiltrated the Indian market. Do kids in India grow up with Hungry Hungry Hippos and Uno and Twister, or are they playing really neat board games that I've never heard of?

Do let me know. ^__^

Sunday, July 22, 2007


The following contains an itty-bitty HP spoiler which has very little to do with the plot or circumstances of the book. Blogger's beta format doesn't let us do cuts, so I can't hide it behind a link or anything like that. I'll skip some space before we begin.


There. (It's a guy in a hat with a really long, skinny nose. ^__^)

So at one point in Deathly Hallows we are given a description of Luna's bedroom. (Get your mind out of that gutter!) We learn that Luna has drawn large pictures of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Ginny, and has written on each picture the word "friends," in gold lettering.

I suddenly remembered that when I was that age (okay, a year older; I had just started undergrad) I had done something remarkably similar. Although it was my friends' names I had written in gold.

(The names are blurred, obviously.)

I've always felt a particular kinship with Luna. ^__^

Thanks for the help!

Thanks to everyone who responded to my query re: money, phones, etc. Y'all rock. ^__^

I've had a lot of people mention Skype to me in the past year. Right now my computer is not equipped to handle it (for starters, I have no microphone function). I wonder if this is something that could be added easily/cheaply. I probably wouldn't need videorecording or anything like that; just a way to talk into my computer and have someone else hear me. ^__^

Internet search reveals... I can get one for $5. That seems more than reasonable.

So with Skype I could receive incoming/outgoing calls on my laptop, as it were. And I can set that up before I leave, and hold off on whether or not I need a cell phone when I am not laptop-adjacent. (I'm hoping I won't.)

I've got Rs 1000 with me right now, which I got about a month ago. I did the travelers' checks thing when I spent a summer in Canada, and it was a huge inconvenience; people wouldn't take them, people would charge fees to exchange them, etc. So I'd rather not do that.

Opening up a bank account might be a good way to go. I'm figuring that I will get hit with fees regardless, both officially and unofficially (thank you, Maximum City). So using ATMs won't bother me too much. If it's only a few cents on the dollar then it is already cheaper than the fees I get at most of the machines here (yes, I know, I should only use the ATM associated with my bank, but... um...).

And I can get all the adapters I want once I arrive. Yay!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Just Like A Culturally Unaware Neighbor

Right now I'm on page 448 of Deathly Hallows... but I can only read so much in one day.

Anyway, I promised you a story. It's a long story -- I'm sorry. My stories tend to run long. The ridiculous stuff happens near the end, if you want to skip ahead. ^__^

Every year I have an annual meeting with my insurance agent. This meeting is theoretically to overview my policy; but, as anyone who's dealt with insurance companies knows, it's merely an excuse to get me into the office for a one-on-one sales pitch. Great.

In the office, however, I was struck by how much my insurance agent had changed since I last saw her. In a year her hair had gone from honey-bottle blonde to a tepid gray, and she had become very thin. She seemed to be moving a little too quickly, and without forethought; her head and shoulders often jerked as if they had been planning to start off in different directions.

She presented me with the option of increasing my life insurance policy, which I quickly explained I was not going to accept, as the only reason I have life insurance is to get the multi-line discount on my car insurance. Either way I have no dependents, so there's little point to paying more now for a theoretically bigger kickback.

The meeting should have "ended" in five minutes, but (having once been a telemarketer) I knew that my agent was going to take a few more shots at turning my "no" into a "yes," and I wasn't going to be allowed to leave until she did. Had this been a phone conversation, I would have hung up; but I couldn't very well just walk out of the room. (That, of course, being the "point" of the annual meeting.)

Her next gambit was the expected "well, you still don't have renter's insurance" play -- and I explained once again that the total value of my possessions was probably $700, at best, and I was uninterested. She proposed that we make a chart to determine the "true value!" of my belongings, but I didn't care to go over my thrift-store lifestyle with her and declined.

And I put my hand on my purse, hoping it would signal the end of this meeting, but my agent turned around, typed a few numbers into her computer, and whirled back, eyes gleaming.

"Have you ever considered personal liability insurance?"

"What's that?" I asked, simply because I was curious. I like to know what things are before salespeople try to convince me to buy them.

"Well..." she began, and then she affected a smile. "Suppose you... I mean, you said you were traveling to India?"

(I had told her this during the "building rapport" portion of our meeting. It did not inspire me towards any rapport.)

"So," she continued, "what if something... I mean I don't want to say that anything would happen, but suppose you were to..."

I suddenly understood what personal liability insurance was.

"Do you mean if I got drunk and punched someone in the face?" I asked, completely deadpan.

My agent was almost floored. "Well, I don't mean... yes, that's what the insurance would be for, but I don't think you're going to do a thing like that."

"Neither do I," I said. "I think we'll be all right."

Check and mate, since the agent had just told me that I didn't actually need the product she was trying to sell. But she had one more shot.

"Tutoring!" she cried. "Will you be doing any tutoring in India?"

"I'll be teaching," I said.

"That's like tutoring!"

Yes, it is, I thought wryly, but did not say anything.

"So what if... well, what if something were to happen between you and one of your students?"

"I'm sorry?" I asked, even though I knew perfectly well where she was going. I just wanted to clarify that my insurance agent was using the sales technique of proposing I might commit indiscretions with my future students.

"You know, suppose something unfortunate were to happen between you and a student! You wouldn't actually have to do it, the student could just decide to accuse you!"

I was relieved to know that she was offering me the option of not committing said indiscretions.

She continued. "Does India have insurance?"

"I... believe so," I said meekly.

"Then they must have lawsuits!"

Yes, I thought, although everyone rides to the courthouse on elephants and tigers.

"And I would hate to see you get thrown in some Indian jail! I don't know what Indian jails are like, but I'm sure they're much worse than American ones!"

That was the end of the meeting, as far as I was concerned; I declined her offer, thanked her, got up, and left. I wonder if my agent knew exactly everything she had said during that meeting. I can't help feeling sorry, a little, because she had looked so down on her luck, but all the same, her sales tactics were so... ridiculous. Ah, well. *__^

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter Week: Cosplay!

I know, I promised you a hilarious story... but it's probably one of Murphy's Laws of Blogging that whenever one promises one's readers a particular post, it (for whatever reason) doesn't get written.

Instead I will give you my Harry Potter cosplay, right before I dash off to my Harry Potter party.

I'm going as Young Trelawney. From the "first prophecy" years. When she was hot.

How do you like them tea leaves?

(Editor's Note: The "tea leaves" are actually Madhur Jaffrey's Spinach with Ginger and Red Pepper. She also wants you to know that she realizes her blurred face looks creepy, and that one of these days she'll just give up and let you see it in all it's fantasticness.

She also realizes that she has now completely lost her scholarly credibility, due to slatternly costume and shabby apartment. But her hair looks amazing, doesn't it?)

Harry Pongal!

From Bitterlemons' recipe:

I had forgotten how good this stuff tastes.

Mmmmmm.... mango pickle. ^__^

Harry Potter Week: Remembering SS/PS

It was the morning I was scheduled to get my wisdom teeth out. I was depressed, not because I was going to get my teeth out -- that was something which could not be avoided and thus had to be dealth with -- but because I was sitting in the waiting room looking particularly ugly, and I knew it.

My mother had insisted I wear very old clothes, lest they, say, become blood- or spit-stained in the process, and I was at the height of teenager-dom when looking "unfashionable" was a humiliation far beyond the bounds of what should be endured. (I have had ten years to wear old clothes since then, and have gotten used to it.)

In the middle of the pile of magazines on the waiting room table was a Newsweek. Inside was a story about this new literary phenomenon: a story about a boy wizard, at a wizard school. There was an excerpt, which I read.

Well, it's cute, I thought. But... it's nothing special.

Harry Potter Week: Remembering COS

I don't have much of a story to tell about reading Chamber of Secrets. I read it during a sort of Harry Potter blitz, when I was trying to catch up with the books I had missed (having read Prisoner of Azkaban first).

But I do have a story to tell about watching the movie, and I do hope Daniel won't mind its telling. It's not about him anyway, but I'm sure he remembers the story. ^__^ This isn't, btw, the one I promised you. That one will come later tonight.

We all went to see the film together, all of us Honors-dorm nerds; not the whole dorm, of course, but the seven-odd of us who had formed our own little friendship and considered ourselves quite the nerdiest of them all. Most of them were already Harry Potter obsessed; I was not, not yet.

We had to drive forty miles out of our sleepy university town in order to get to the movie, and we spent the forty miles back in eager discussion of whether or not Ron Weasley would grow up with serious psychological problems because he spent his whole life as the shadow sidekick to the greatest wizard in the world. We quoted Dickens and noted that Ron was clearly not " the hero of his own life," and pondered what that meant for his future.

But the most memorable part of the evening was in the moment before the film began, when we were competing to see who knew the most answers to the movie trivia questions and mocking the syntactical errors of the advertisements for Coke and popcorn.

A trivia question came up about a movie I had seen in high school. Well... only half-seen.

"That movie was so boring that my boyfriend and I spent the whole thing making out in the movie theater," I said.

My friends were as shocked as if I had admitted to... oh, I don't know, fill in your own blank with the most scandalous thing you can think of.

"What -- you've never made out with someone in a movie theater?" I asked.

Faces began to redden.

"Well, you should," I continued blithely, "it's a lot of fun. Where did you go to make out, then, in high school? In the backseat of your car?"

There was a great deal of silence. All of the other young men in our company looked away, and suddenly I realized that I was perhaps the only member of our group that had gotten so far as first base.

Finally, the brashest member of the group spoke up.

"Well, let me be the first to say that I haven't yet kissed a girl, but I hope to while I'm in college."

And then, thank goodness, we all started laughing in simultaneous understanding and relief. And yes, I did offer to kiss them all, but was soundly refused.

And that is my Chamber of Secrets story. ^__^

Thursday, July 19, 2007

White Girl Seeking Help: Questions about finances, communication, and electricity in Hyderabad

We're taking a temporary break from Harry Potter Week because I've got a few questions which I know y'all can answer for me.

And my thought is that if I ask them now, we'll all be less likely to have our noses buried in a book and won't mind the interruption. ^__^

I get on the plane for Hyderabad in 24 days. Wow. And, trying to get all of my ducks in a row, I have just a few more questions.

(BTW -- for those following the shoe story -- I bought another similar pair in black, so we should be all right. They're also much less comfortable than they appear. However, I refuse to perpetually wear beat-up sneakers with white sport sox. Eew.)

1. Finances. How do I handle my money? Would I be able to stick my Visa into an ATM and have rupees come out? Do I need travelers checks? How can I avoid having to carry around/protect four months' worth of money in cash?

2. Communication. Clearly the internet works much the same way in Hyderabad as it does in the rural midwest (although, from Manish's post today, I gather it works much less often, and in only short spurts). But what's the best way of making international phone calls? Getting a phone card and using the available landlines (in the university, in the hostel, etc.)? I'm pretty sure my cell phone won't work in India, since it barely works here -- do I need to buy one in Hyderabad, or can I manage easily enough without?

Also: is it possible to have my (snail) mail forwarded? Is it too much of a hassle? Would it be easier for me to ask my new roommate to Fed-Ex a month's worth of letters at a time? (I don't plan on getting a lot of mail, and the bills are direct debit.... but still.)

3. Electricity. Do I need to get one of those special plug adapter thingies? The only electrical appliance I'm planning to bring is my laptop, but it did occur to me that I might need some kind of adapter to go with it. Yes or no?

Y'all are fantastic. In thanks I'm going to post a (true) story so hilarious it will have whatever liquid you happen to be drinking at the time squirting out of your nose. It'll show up tomorrow, right before we all tuck in to read Mr. Potter.

Harry Potter Week: Remembering POA

Prisoner of Azkaban was the book that first hooked me on Harry Potter. I knew, of course, that there were these books going around, and I had seen the SS/PS movie, but it was kind of.... meh. Whatever. They were books for children.

But I was a sophomore living in the "honors dorm" filled with a bunch of truly dorky (and awfully clever) people, and so many of them were talking about these freaking Harry Potter books that I decided I might as well see why all these otherwise smart people were reading these things.

I settled myself in the university library, in the children's section, with one of the four copies of Prisoner of Azkaban available. (Even though there were only three of the seven books yet released, the Harry Potter books already took up an entire shelf of the library. Everyone seemed to want a copy.)

Before I continue I want to mention something wonderful about my university's library -- or, perhaps, their system of planning. The honors dorm, a lovely old building from 1912, was placed directly next to the university library. It was barely a few steps to go. I could do it barefoot. I *did* do it barefoot. The library was open all night, and I spent many wonderful late nights running from my little room to the giant expanse of books. Pure instant gratification.

Anyway. POA was a pageturner, and I read it cover-to-cover on a weekend afternoon. I still wasn't sure these things were "literature," or even if they were particularly well-written, but they were certainly well-plotted. I ran delightedly back to the honors dorm. Now I knew what these books were about, and I could join in the game.

Harry Potter Week: Remembering GOF

I've never actually read Goblet of Fire all the way through. I've tried. More than once.

The first time was soon after it was released, and I think it must have been Daniel's copy (though it may have been a library copy) and I turned the pages and ran smack into the Quiddich World Cup and my brain turned off, just like it does whenever I have to watch sports in television or in real life. (There are certain things my brain does very well. Others, it seems to refuse to do, rather like a stubborn toddler. I am perfectly aware of the rules of football, baseball, etc. but can find no way to connect them to the little dots running around on the screen, and with the lack of "language meaning," my brain gives up on the images.)

So... okay. Skip fifty pages. Jump back in and then try to remember who Mad-Eye Moody is and what he's doing there.

I've never made it through that section of the book. I tried again when I was babysitting the two dogs, substituting it for the copy of Order of the Phoenix that I wished I had. I fell asleep trying. It just didn't work.

And even the remainder of the book holds little interest for me; sure, Harry fighting a dragon should be fun, because I like to fight dragons myself -- but it's a lot more fascinating to do it than to read about it.

Ah, well. I suppose with seven books there can be one I won't bother to re-read. Or... um... ever fully read. ^__^

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry Potter Week: Harry Potter and the Dark Lord Waldemart


Harry Potter Week: Remembering OOTP

It was before we invaded Iraq, if you can believe that. I had chin-length hair which I clubbed back with bobby pins. I hadn't yet learned to drink.

I was in Saratoga Springs, NY, on scholarship to study with the SITI Company. It was our last day, and there was a party for the students. I was the second-youngest in the group, and that by a gap of nearly five years. I noticed that acutely. We were also, now that I think to remember, exclusively white except for the single Japanese instructor. I wouldn't have thought to notice that then.

But because I was so young, or because nobody else cared, I couldn't convince anyone to go into the city with me to get a copy of Order of the Phoenix. It would have been fun; but by midnight the crowd was pretty well drunk and enacting silly improvisations which involved people getting their clothing torn off by clothing-eating tigers. It was the usual theatre-people stuff. I went to bed.

I spent the summer, after that, housesitting for one professor while I was supposed to be doing a research project with another. But she had just become pregnant after a year of trying, and her plans had changed; she and her husband were spending the summer with her mother in preparation. We would communicate by email, she said, but we did not. I housesat for her house as well, walking the two miles back and forth between the two faculty homes and spending every third night sleeping in a different bedroom. Each house had a dog, but -- thankfully -- they were allowed to be kept together.

I put together the necessary research paper alone, not necessarily haphazardly but certainly without the hoped-for effort; I knew that nobody would bother reading it and it was now just a way to get a box ticked off before graduation. When I expressed my disappointment to a (third) faculty member, she suggested I try thinking outside of myself and told me that there was a summer student on campus, in a wheelchair, who needed to be transported to and from class.

And so every day I helped the student in the wheelchair and walked the two dogs (as well as the two miles between the faculty houses, and the miles to and from the university campus). I'm not sure it helped me think "outside of myself," but I certainly became very physically fit. I walked through the toes of my shoes, sewed them up with a 99-cent sewing kit, and kept walking.

Meanwhile I had gone online and found a detailed summary of OOTP, so I could play along when my friends (other honors students on campus for their research summer, albeit with a little more success) talked about the book. It was pretty easy. Finally I admitted to Daniel that I hadn't read it yet at all, and asked shyly if I could borrow his copy.

Earlier that summer a tornado had ripped through my hometown, leveling it in odd patches and destroying a good third of the homes; the weather continued throughout the summer and I found myself leading my friends, leading the dogs, leading the student in the wheelchair down into basements and waiting out storms and sirens. There were a lot of sirens and a lot of storms.

And what I remember most about that summer was that after I finished OOTP, I stopped having nightmares about tornadoes and started having dreams about Harry.

Harry Potter Week: Remembering HBP

I suppose I was twenty-three. I know I was waitressing; midnight every night, or later, at a restaurant whose most expensive dish was titled "Mako Shark Bites" and ran for $24.95. I ate store-brand granola bars hidden behind the side-work station. I was fetchingly thin, owing to circumstances rather than deliberation, and my feet hurt.

I was living with my parents, just for the summer, and was running a children's drama camp when I wasn't waitressing. I spent a week as a live-in babysitter for three unruly children while their parents were on vacation, and found that they had a habit of waking up in the middle of the night to make kitchen-destroying ice cream sundaes while the babysitter was asleep. They weren't my children, so I wasn't angry. We all had sundaes and went back to bed.

Because of the three jobs, and the money I had put aside from temping, I preordered Half-Blood Prince. Months in advance, knowing if I waited I could easily justify not doing it. But I had no friends in my hometown to loan me a copy -- truth be told I had no friends left in my hometown whatsoever, due to college and jobs and travel, and it was a welcome diversion to putter-Potter around on internet chat rooms.

And I wanted to know what happened next in the story.

I waitressed until midnight that night, and so forewent the release party at our only chain bookstore, twenty-five miles away. My copy was arriving the next morning at 10:30 a.m., courtesy of the United States Postal Service and Amazon-dot-com.

I went to bed in the same blue-flowered pajamas that I wear now; economy, as always, being the sole imperative.

What I remember most was the sense of giddy anticipation. It was like Christmas -- only better than Christmas, because I knew that the Santa Claus driving down the highway towards me was bringing me exactly what I wanted.

I fell asleep smiling.

Potter Puppet Pals: Mysterious Ticking Noise

This week is clearly going to be Harry Potter week at pretty blue salwar... and so let me present you with the little song that's been stuck in my head all day, as I anticipate the book's release. ^__^

I find this song particularly fitting because no one I know who is anticipating the book seems at all interested in the plot; they're only curious to find out "what happens" to our beloved characters.

And this song is all about the beloved characters.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

These Are Only Predictions. NOT Spoilers.

Well, it's official. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has been leaked online. The entire text, from beginning to end. (And the poor kid who did it is soon going to be faced with one hell of a lawsuit from Scholastic.)

I'm not going to tell you how to get there. I found out through a blog post at Salon's The Machinist. Click there (no spoilers) if you want to know more.

Since we'll all know, perhaps a bit sooner, what will happen to Our Hero in the last volume of his story, I thought I would take the opportunity to lay out my predictions.

Mostly I just want to see how clever I am at guessing.

First off: the big one. What will happen to Harry?

Well... this is the deal. JKR has backed herself into a corner with this "will he live/will he die" thing. If she simply picks either "live" or "die," she's going to put off half of her fans.

My money's not on "die." As fun as it is to end a long-running series with the death of the hero (cough-cough-C.S. Lewis-cough-cough), I can't see that happening. Especially, as has been mentioned on other sites, because Warner Bros. is going to soon open a Harry Potter theme park. Killing off Harry won't exactly inspire kids to jump onto rides.

So my money's either on "live," or (my wicked suspicion) "disappear." That is to say, for whatever reason Harry's not going to turn up after that final battle with Voldy. But they won't find a body, either, and people will claim to catch glimpses of him now and again. He'll be like the wizarding Elvis.

She'll write it so it leaves enough hope for the fans in the "live" camp, and equally satisfies the people who think he should die.

Of course, coming so soon after the Sopranos finale, this will be seen as anticlimactic. But... can't be helped, I suppose.

I stand in the group of fans who hope that the last chapter will take place with the next generation of kidlets arriving at Hogwarts. Possibly in Diagon Alley or at Platform 9 3/4. Hermione and Ron will drop off their son (named Harry, of course), Tonks and Lupin will drop off their wolf-baby, and (as was predicted so beautifully on The Leaky Cauldron) Dudley will be reluctantly escorting his own wizard child.

JKR has stated that one of the main characters will end up teaching at Hogwarts, though it won't be "who we expect" (i.e. Hermione). Plenty of people have voted for Neville, but I'm beginning to wonder if he won't go down in some kind of blazing sacrifice or if he and Bellatrix won't manage to simulatneously off each other.

So my guess is it will be Ginny meeting the kids at the gate, in her role as "woman who devotes herself thoroughly to her work because she will never love again now that her One True Love From High School has disappeared."

Unless Harry lives, in which case my money's back on Neville. ^__^

As for the characters she is planning to kill... oh, I'm sure it will be the usual suspects. Hagrid, a Weasley or two, a professor or two, anyone in the Order who isn't Tonks/Lupin, and perhaps Luna (she has no future in the "real world," anyway). Obviously Snape will die. It would be interesting if she killed off Petunia. (Was Petunia a witch who "denied the call???")

As for "is Harry a Horcrux," I find myself rather uninterested either way. I've told people IRL that this will probably be the Final Fantasy of HP books -- that is, Harry and his group of friends will travel all over the world to find the lost orbs-I-mean-Horcruxes. And they'll have to fight mini-bosses, like Bellatrix and Snape, before Harry fights the final boss. So that structure in itself is less interesting to me than how JKR plays out the denouement.

But -- as long as they're traveling in search of these things -- I hope she included a trip to Fire World. ^__^

Monday, July 16, 2007

Harry Potter and the Blink-And-You'll-Miss-'Em Order of the Phoenix

OOTP is my favorite Harry Potter book. And, I have to shamefully admit, during my weekend in NYC I took S. on what turned out to be a nearly seven-hour trip to see the film. (We found a theatre but got lost on the subway and missed the showtime; then we found another theatre but it wasn't showing HP; then we found another theatre but it was closed for the day because the building had no water; then we finally caught a 10:40 p.m. showing in the heart of the city. S. remained a good sport throughout. I owe him BIG TIME and know it. ^__^)

I wasn't necessarily disappointed. I thought the imagery was fantastic. The effects were finally streamlined to the point where they looked "real" rather than like clunky digital animations (OMG FLIGHT OVER LONDON!!!). The editing, while not the wickedly clever work of Mr. Cuaron (as Blogical Conclusion notes), was charming.

But I was a bit perturbed by the truncation of the story -- and even more so, the truncation of the characters. For a film titled "Order of the Phoenix," the actual Order had a collective four minutes of screen time.

Let's take, for example, Nymphadora Tonks. In the text, she's a major player in the story -- in the film, she's given less than a minute of screen time and one line of dialogue. Warner Bros. spent months agonizing over whom to cast (and the online fangroups agonized along with them), and yet the role was so circumspect, anyone could have played it.

S., who has read some of the HP books but did not follow the series through OOTP, kept asking me "who's that?" each time a new character appeared onscreen. At first, I gave him a bit of detail; but as the film progressed it became very clear that it didn't matter who Tonks or Arabella Figg or Dawlish were, as they were neither given character development or allowed to enhance the plot. They were merely images flashed onto the screen for brief seconds, to keep the fans satisfied that no important character had been left out.

Someone, somewhere should run a calculation of the amount of time each of the following characters appears onscreen: Tonks, Moody, Lupin, Shacklebolt, McGonagall, Kreacher, etc. etc... and Ron. Poor Rupert Grint had nothing to do in this film. For one of the three major characters, he barely registered onscreen.

Alan Rickman, meanwhile, seemed to be using his screen time to show us how tired he was of this whole business. He's one of the few people besides JKR who knows the "truth" about Snape, and he could have presented a nuanced character, deliberately tantalizing the fans with this secret; and yet every line was uttered in the same dreary, deadpan tone. When I saw the film, every Snape line was accompanied by hoots of laughter.

To be fair, Snape was given a lot of extremely bad dialogue... as was everybody else. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg seems to be doing an even worse job than Steve Kloves (the man who gave us "Oh my God, I've killed Harry Potter!" in GOF). He completely butchered the script's high-charged moments by handing round trite and sentimental cliche, and the climactic "Love is the weapon you have that Voldemort does not" scene was laughed out of the theatre.

Interestingly, the one character who really stood out was Luna Lovegood. Press releases reveal that untrained newcomer Evanna Lynch was essentially allowed to do as she liked with the part, from costume choices to dialogue rewrites, and thus we got a reader's interpretation of Luna rather than a Hollywood one. (For the uninitiated: Evanna Lynch won the part of Luna by convincing JKR and Warner Bros. that it would be a good -- and marketable -- idea to put an untrained fan into the initially minor role. From there, it seems the part expanded to fit Lynch's talents.)

In comparison, the wildly talented Helena Bonham Carter, who has plenty of skill but no real knowledge of the books, managed to reduce Bellatrix LeStrange into a series of "boogidy-boogidy-boos!"

And the less I write about wands becoming light-sabers, the better. I'd hate to spoil the ending for anyone who hadn't yet seen it.

It'll be interesting to see what happens to the films after the last book is out. HBP is trying to open in November 2008, but they won't get DH out until nearly 2010, and by then, will people still care? Even this film seemed to open with much less fanfare than the others (I haven't seen a single picture of any opening-night costume parties), and my guess is that after the book releases and people finally know "what happens next," enthusiasm will wane considerably.

And yet I still have immense gratitude for S. coming along for the day-long ride to see a movie. ^__^

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Trio of Triolets

From Wikipedia:

Triolets are used more than anything in cards and love letters -- their short beauty makes them a perfect gift.

Would you were here
And not so far away...
Well, you'd not have to hear
"Would you were here." ^__^
And, if here you could stay
Then we'd both never fear
"Would you were here
And not so far away."

I believe this is the first triolet ever to contain an emoticon.


Last night I dreamt you slept beside me, love
And woke to find my arm wrapped round my pillow.
If e'er you bid me my affection prove,
Last night I dreamt you slept beside me, love
Though in the morning found no such bedfellow.
To 'scape my bed's most solitary groove
Last night I dreamt you slept beside me, love
And woke to find my arm wrapped round my pillow.

This refers, of course, to the "desire for shared sleep" -- get your minds out of the gutter and read your Kundera.


If good things come in threes
The best one must be you.
The others, if you please
(if good things come in threes)
Are the way your mind construes
All the thoughts it shares with me.
Yes -- if good things come in threes
The best one must be you.

I am going to spend the weekend in NYC with S. and won't be online very much... I'd say I'll miss you, but I'm going to be fully occupied otherwise. ^__^ S. has very pretty eyes, and I plan on gazing into them for a while.

Worst. Promotional Event. Ever.

So here we are, on 7-11-07, "celebrating" the transfer of twelve 7-11 stores into Kwik-E-Marts, to help promote the new Simpsons movie.

I'm going to let Ultrabrown handle the Apu issue. Manish is doing a much better job of it than I ever could.

However, there is one little nuance I'd like to add to the table.

Those signs you see in these pictures? (Scroll down; they're near the bottom.) The ones that say "our hot dogs are rich in bunly goodness" and "buy our sandwiches, savor their sandwichy goodness?"

Those aren't Apu quotes.

They're Lunchlady Doris quotes.

The first one is from episode #133, "Lisa the Vegetarian." (And yes, I knew that without having to look it up.) I'm assuming the second one is a variant on the first.

In addition to being racially insulting, looks like the Simpsons promotional people think we'll be too stupid to notice, or that we'll assume all of the fuzzy-grammar slogans tacked to the walls are automatically Apu's, because, you know, those Indians speak the crazy English!

But let's deconstruct this a bit, because I took a semester's worth of post-structural theory and I'll be damned if I don't get to exercise my chops once in a while.

If the Simpsons people are passing off Lunchlady Doris quotes as Apu quotes, they're either A. assuming we won't notice (which makes them idiots -- the Simpsons didn't get to become the monolith it is today without its thousands of devoted fans who can parrot every one-liner), or B. creating a promotional event that isn't really for fans of the Simpsons at all.

That is to say, they're creating an event designed for newbies or low-key fans or people who haven't already memorized the film's release date and plan to attend the first showing. (7-27-07, baby!)

They're creating an event for people who aren't already aware of the film.

And thus, what does it matter if Apu's quotes are canon? If all the low-key viewer knows is a general stereotype of Apu, why not play to that stereotype and give Apu as many ridiculous quotes as possible?

The long-term fans know Apu is a much more rounded character than "thank you, come again" (which explains why many of them argue that Apu shouldn't be viewed as a negative stereotype). But the casual people, the ones who are aware of the Simpsons but are uninterested in memorizing the lyrics to Oh, Streetcar!, well... they're the reason why we shouldn't be having this promotional event.

Because all they will see -- and all this branding represents -- is the stereotype Apu, speaking words that really belong to Lunchlady Doris, because the words are funny, and Indians are funny too.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Message for SepiaMutiny

I know you deal in much larger issues, and that I should really be busying myself thinking about one of them instead, but the one thing that stuck with me after reading your feed today was the discovery that the people on NPR aren't pronouncing "Lakshmi" correctly.

Is it really true? Really?

How is it actually pronounced?

And can you suggest a nice drug to combat the depression that comes alongside learning that even Public Radio can't get their phonemes right, and thus I (a small person with no governmental funding or pledge drives) have no hope?


A Message for Ms. Neha Vish

Neha, I seem to have come down with your flu. Sneezy, coughy, achy, etc.

Never mind that everyone else in my cube farm has it too, and that we sound a bit like a communal symphony of nose-blowers.

I'm most certain I caught it from you.

As (here comes the punchline) computers do transmit viruses, after all.

Cue rimshot. ^__^

(Editor's Note: If you are one of the people who reads this blog and then calls my cell phone to chat about my posts, please DON'T. By the time you read this, I will be asleep and I don't want to be woken up. Thanks.)

Monday, July 9, 2007

A Message for Ms. Bitterlemons

I have not forgotten your pongal recipe. In fact, I went and bought myself a jar of ghee just so I could make it.

It's a very cute jar. It has a picture of a cow on it, and in bright red letters reads "100% Cow Ghee."

(Although I have to admit the whole "cow ghee" thing was a little unexpected... does it mean there are other kinds, like goat ghee?)

The reason I haven't tried making the pongal (and why I haven't made any cooking posts, as of late) is because it is very hot and stifling in my little apartment and the last thing I want to do is start boiling up a bunch of rice and dal. I've been eating sandwiches and salads instead.

Something tells me that the heat never stops anyone in India from making pongal, but... I'm not in Hyderabad yet! ^__^

Sunday, July 8, 2007

I Want A Book Deal

All right, team. We need to put our collective heads together.

I've been spending more and more time lately doing it "library-style" at the local Borders. Although the air-conditioning is a plus, it has somewhat dawned on me that the types of books I read while at Borders are... shall we say... less than literary.

For example: when I'm at home, I'm reading through the collection of Narayan that S. left me. But when I go to Borders, I read Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck.

It's not my fault; they always seem to put the crappiest books nearest the door, and I have a habit long since childhood of reading everything I see, and I see the pop-lit first.

But lately I've found myself leaving the store with a feeling similar to that of eating a Steak-n-Shake platter: to wit, that was a nice rush, but... ouch, my intestines.

(I feel bad about my intestines.)

Anyway. After spending a few weeks doing this I have come to the realization that there are people out there getting book deals for doing just about anything. Cameron Stratcher got a book deal because he decided he was going to have dinner with his kids. A. J. Jacobs got a book deal because he decided he wanted to read the Encyclopedia Britannica cover-to-cover. Tim Ferriss got a book deal because he knew that getting a book deal would generate passive income. Then he spent a week web-testing titles to see which one would induce the most people to buy copies.

(Sidebar/Holy Shit Alert: A. J. Jacobs was the original inspiration for Ferriss' "outsource my life to India" idea. See the essay here. No wonder the guy had time to read the encyclopedia.)

So I want a book deal too.

There seem to be a few ways of going about it:

1. Deciding to do something crazy/impossible/enviable and then writing about it. Coincidentally, the book deal itself will also help the thing get done. We all knew the One Red Paperclip guy was going to get a house, right from the beginning. There was no way he wouldn't.

Thus I should get a book deal for something titled "Bollywood Henna Mango Dance: How A Small Midwestern Girl Learned to Dance Alongside Bollywood's Hottest Superstars." Not only would I get the book advance, but I would also (by virtue of writing the book alone) get to dance alongside Bollywood's hottest superstars. Random House would work out the details.

2. Deciding to overhaul your life and then telling other people how to do the same. Thus we get things like Better Off (the book I read today), a story of a couple who move to Amish country and live for a year without technology. Or we get Ferriss' book.

There's a subgenre here, somewhat along the lines of "everything is better if you move to a magical foreign country." I was talking to S. about this last night, and he suggested this particular genre may have started with the bestselling Under the Tuscan Sun, which implied that Italian villas were there for the taking.

S. noted that the majority of these books (and their accompanying films) are set in nostalgia-inducing Old Europe, and that the market hadn't yet shifted over to freaky-sexy India. Although the new sensation Eat Pray Love might help push the trend (summary: white woman goes to ashram, finds self).

We discussed for a moment whether or not I should try to make a book of my Hyderabad experience ("Alice in Hyderabad: One Woman's Journey Into Directing Theatre, Loving India, And Finding Her Soul"). Unfortunately, it's probably ridiculously marketable (if only I had the right connections... hmmm....).

Then, however, we decided it would be equally worthwhile (and equally likely to bestsell) if I parodied/subverted the genre, writing a story not about a woman finding herself in a foreign land, but the reality of the smallness and simplicity of my trip (not to mention the heat and gastroenteritis).

S. suggested we call the book "Creative Bullshit in India."

It would probably sell. Books with an obscenity in their title tend to sell.

(Perhaps we could put a mango on the cover and have a worm crawling out.)

But seriously. How can I jump on the book-deal bandwagon while there's still time? And what should I write about? ^_^

The 4-Hour Workweek Continued: Shell-Gaming The Boss

Tim Ferriss makes a second major point in his bestselling The 4-Hour Workweek, and it was one that touched rather closely upon my own heart.

And then it kind of made me go "eurgh" a little.

The thesis: that most office work can be completed in about half the time of a normal workday, and that we spend too much time in our cubicles either dinking around on the internet/talking to our neighbors/etc. or getting swamped in inefficient sidetrackers.

I'll vouch to this idea that we're wasting a lot of time in offices. Certainly my experience this summer has been that I can accomplish things in much less time than expected.

I'll also vouch to the idea that the modern office is full of inefficiency. I spent the last week, for example, filling in for a coworker on vacation and sitting at her desk/using her Outlook/etc. because it was faster than trying to get me unique access to all of her programs and files.

This woman had her email set up to send notifications every time A. an outgoing message arrived in the recipient's inbox and B. the outgoing message was opened by the recipient.

Thus, for every email she sent (and I sent, from her computer), she got two in return. Two emails which contained somewhat specious information and which then had to be managed. This is exponentially ridiculous.

Anyway. Ferriss notes this, and then proposes a solution.

One can't just go to the boss, Ferriss writes, and say "I'm doing all my assigned work in half the time -- may I spend the rest of the day at home?"

This will only result in one's being assigned twice as much work to do. ^__^

No, Ferriss' solution is to trick the boss, using the following method:

1. Begin to slowly minimize productivity in the office.

2. Call in a few (fake) sick days. During those sick days, work at maximum productivity and accomplish something amazing. Make sure to document.

3. Go to boss and say "Wow -- look at how much work I was able to get done at home, even when I was sick! It must be because I was able to work without the distractions of the office. What if I were to try working at home for a day or two each week?"

4. Use sophisticated sales techniques (Ferriss teaches these) to ensure boss says yes. Spend all time at the office being ridiculously unproductive, and all time at home being overwhelmingly productive.

5. Use the evidence produced in Step 4 (and the hard sell technique) to gain yourself the opportunity to work full-time from home.

6. Do office work from home in 1/2 time, use the other half to begin building your cadre of desis, and continue to collect your paycheck.

Hmmm. A fail-proof method, yes? ^__^

Ferriss doesn't note, of course, what one should do if one is part of the large contingent of American employees paid by the hour. Or what one should do if one works for a company who monitors computer use and keystrokes and thus would know exactly what you've been doing during those cubicle "unproductive" days. ("Boss, he's had the spreadsheet open on his computer for four hours, but hasn't made a single keystroke. What's going on?")

Or what one should do if the company requires one to complete a timesheet every hour detailing what has been accomplished. (The company I've been temping for just initiated this last week, and it's driving the poor office ladies crazy, as they -- like me -- don't really have enough busywork to fill all eight hours and so use the time inbetween tasks to share pictures of grandchildren and cats and to talk about things like Weight Watchers. And they're terrified that they will either be downsized, or will be given twice as much work to do.)

What do you think? Shall we test Ferriss' method?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The 4-Hour Workweek (Plus The Extra Hours the Brown Guy Works)

I just got back from Borders, where I read the first third of Reading Lolita in Tehran (starts out with so much promise, but then... sort of forces and fills things to make a single idea expand into book-length) as well as the newest economic-theory sensation, Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Workweek.

(Abi, if you haven't yet looked into/blogged this, you should. I think it would be a very interesting book for you to read.)

The thesis of the book is the same as the best-selling Rich Dad, Poor Dad: if you pay other people to do your work for you at a lower total cost than the amount of revenue their work can generate... you can earn money without having to physically labor at it.

(Note to S. and other economists: this is rather the fundamental principle of all businesses, yes?)

Unlike Mr. "Rich Dad" Kiyosaki, Ferriss is less about "accumulating as much cash so you can buy wicked cool stuff like summer homes and jet skis" and more about "living simply so you can make your income stretch as far as it can, and traveling and doing good in other parts of the world." (One bonus -- which Ferriss notes -- is that living in most "other parts of the world" is much cheaper than living in the U.S., so the money stretches farther. )

Kiyosaki was all about employing those close to you (his first employee was his sister, whom he paid 25 cents/hour). Ferriss does him one better. Forget those close to you, he writes. You have to pay them in dollars, which are worth too much. Go hire some Indians instead!

Which is exactly what Ferriss does, hiring a small cadre of desis to market his product, secure contacts with influential people, and even manage correspondence with his wife. She may think that sweet email is from her beloved husband, but it was written by some guy in Bangalore.

"They work while you sleep!" Ferriss writes, over and over, as if he had just discovered that India has a different time zone than America. "They work while you sleep!"

Let's take a moment to examine this seriously. Perhaps it is, after all, a win-win situation. Ferriss gets his money, and so do his Indian employees. Sure, Ferriss gets considerably more money and does much less work, but he's the visionary and those poor desis are probably really happy to have any kind of a job at all, given the Indian economy and the blah-blah.

But there's something just a bit icky about a book which spends its first half saying "don't you hate being a working schmuck, having to do what some boss tells you to do" and then its second half saying that the way out is by becoming a boss yourself and hiring your own schmucks. But it's different, y'know, because you'll be a benevolent boss. Um... yeah.

(Question for Team Readers: what are the various Indian-language words for schmuck? Knowing my readership, I am expecting responses in at least Hindi, Telugu, and Punjabi. Very curious to find out how this word translates.)

After reading the book, I am curious to know your thoughts on this particular issue.

Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or an inevitable thing for young American entrepreneurs to outsource to India? Is this an idea that should be promoted, or dreaded?

I guess (it's probably my white liberal guilt showing through) the thing that feels weird to me is this sense of entitlement (and icky racial politics) it implies. The sort of "look how smart of a guy I am, because I found this country full of poor brown people who will do all my work for me, and I hardly have to pay them anything!"

I mean, we did that -- didn't we? -- about a century ago, and here we are doing it again.

I leave the debate up to you.

Friday, July 6, 2007

America the Beautiful

If you've been following this blog since it's induction, you should have a fairly good idea of where I live. I'm in an unnamed mid-sized Midwestern town, small enough to have only one shopping mall but large enough to have three (competing) Indian groceries.

Like Sashi over at Buoyantville, I spend a lot of time playing the observer. Particularly if I'm at an event by myself, which is likely to happen if I'm, say, temping during the summer while all of my grad student friends are scattered across the country.

Anyway. This is what I observed, in this mid-sized Midwestern town, on the Fourth of July.

Imagine a bandstand, in the middle of a large, well-maintained park. On the bandstand, there is a performance of sorts; a nationalistic "spectacular" about our country's history which clearly took a few cues from "Red, White, and Blaine" (down to the old geezer sitting off to one side, narrating the entire thing to the audience).

The performers look a lot like TV America: a bunch of smiling white people and one black man. They're all dressed in American flag t-shirts.

At closest proximity to the bandstand are the elderly; all white, all white-haired. They are the only people really enjoying this performance; perhaps they are its intended audience. When the actors ask all of the veterans in the crowd to stand up, it's this group who provide the tears.

The older folks fill all of the available seating. Right behind them stand the townie crowd; again, all white, largely overweight, with children who are clearly bored and misbehaving. They don't look happy to be there (this performance is something that must be sat through before the fireworks begin), and the mothers glare and whisper threats at the children.

Behind this group is the desi contingent. Many of them took the time to dress up for this event; saris of course, but the men also wear neatly pressed shirts (as do the little boys) and the girls are all ruffles and frills. They also look fairly bored; but, unlike the families in front of them, they stand silently and wait.

Behind this group are the black families, and behind them are a few Hispanic families. And, with only rare exceptions, the audience has very neatly stratified themselves into this arrangement.

Which meant that when I came over the hill towards the bandstand, I saw arrayed before me a little unconscious microcosm of America, appropriate enough on the Fourth of July: a little center of white faces backed by a larger group of brown ones.

And to top it all off, I heard the old geezer onstage say this:

"America's a great democracy, but we can't forget that there are countries out there who are still dreaming that they can be like America. But with hard work, we can help them get there!"

Makes me proud to be part of this great nation.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The "What Am I Going To Wear (On My Feet) In India" Post

I've had a particular pair of shoes in mind for a while. They would be both pretty and comfortable, suitable for long walks, easy to run quickly in (if necessary), and able to slip on and off.

Thanks to the Fourth of July sales, I was able to nab them. For 50% off!*

Theoretically these should then be the only pair of shoes I need to take with me (as they adorably match all the clothes I've mentally pre-packed), and if I find I need another pair of shoes, I can buy them in Hyderabad.

That should have been all I needed to purchase today, but this past week my beloved boho bag, which I've carried for about four years and which I planned to take with me to India, ripped a big hole into it. (S. asked me how that possibly could have happened. I hinted that it probably had something to do with all the junk I shove in there.)

So I found I needed to buy a purse. And I went to every store in the mall searching for one. And I realized that somewhere in the past four years when I wasn't looking, the style changed from "purses on long straps that can be slung across the chest" to "purses on tiny straps that have to be carried somewhere in the armpit."

I went from store to store looking for something that could actually be worn on the body, instead of having to be clutched or clasped. And of the (few) purses I found that had decent-length straps, I then had to hunt for one that actually closed at the top, instead of leaving itself open for all the pickpockets of the world to slide their fingers in. (You would be surprised at how many purses have no form of top-closure. What is the point?)

And, once I found those purses, I then had to pick out one that matched the shoes. ^__^

The results are below. Darling, yes?

* Editor's Note: She is well aware that "50% off" is a mere gimmick designed to lure people into the stores. She is equally aware that she did not actually "save" any money buying these shoes, as they are always priced as high as the market will bear regardless of any 50% signs, and that there is no true "full price," and that she is not planning to put the money the shoes would have cost into a savings account (the only real way to "save" anything).

Also, while she has your attention, she would like to remind everyone that although today is technically an American "holiday," it is also a normal workday for nearly half of the American workforce -- coincidentally the lower-paid half, the half less likely to get the opportunity for a paid vacation day at another time (if ever). She would write more, but she would have to go find a soapbox to match her shoes.

Wait! There ARE Pictures!

I completely forgot. There are no pictures of me cosplaying as Hermione, but there is a pic of me cosplaying as Rowena Ravenclaw.

Yes. Am complete dork. Good for a laugh, though. ^__^

(This is completely ruining my reputation as an intellectual, isn't it. ^__^)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Life (or is it Death?) Of Mr. Potter

As a brief note to the Suitable Boy anecdote in my last post:

I'm becoming a little worried about Harry. That is to say, I don't believe there's any way that we'll be able to pull off the distribution of Ms. Rowling's final book without someone spoiling the ending for everyone. News travels too fast. It'll be up on YouTube, on CNN... or maybe person #1 in line at the bookstore will grab the book, flip to the last pages, and shout out the ending to persons #100 and beyond.

I'm not a fan of the HP books as literature (mea culpa, Mr. Daniel and Ms. Ginny). I am, however, fascinated by the HP books as catalysts for community -- for speculation, discussion, creativity, and play. I thoroughly enjoy the experience of reading an HP book because it gives me the chance to talk about books with other people. (Also it gives me the chance to put on a silly costume and jump around. Yes, I have cosplayed Hermione before. No, there aren't pictures.)

The ideal way to present the final book would be for everyone to read it slowly, maybe a chapter at a time, and then talk about it (online or IRL). Because what's fun about the books is the chance to predict and analyze and follow JKR's clues.

However, everyone is undoubtedly going to sit down, on their lonesome, with the book and rush as fast as they can towards the end because OMGWTF i wanna know whether Harry lives or dies!!!!

And then someone's going to find out and broadcast it, and spoil it for all of us.

And, as I will not be reading the book myself until at least a week of the HP madness is over (as I will have my copy in a corner of Borders, instead of paying full ticket to take one home with me), someone's going to spoil it for me. It's sure to be spoiled by then.

Which makes me sad, just a little.

But only a little.

Book Meme: Indian Writing

It seems like le plus awesome Neha Vish is feeling a little better these days, so I'm going to follow her good example and continue the "Indian Writing" meme.

I could give you a list of all the Indian novels and plays I've read in the past year, but that would be dull. Though it is a rather estimable list. ^__^

Instead I'll give you a few anecdotes.

One: When I was in high school, I gave my father a copy of The Satanic Verses for a Christmas present. I had never read the book, and had no idea what it was about, but determined that if it was good enough to get Rushdie kicked out of his country, it was good enough for my dad to read.

(I don't believe he ever read it.)

Two: When I was in college, housesitting for a professor who got The New Yorker, I read an excerpt from The Namesake. In fact, I read it three times. It contained two chunks from the book -- the scene with the train accident, and the scene where little Gogol goes to kindergarten. I re-read it three times because of the scene with the train; perhaps because Ashoke was saved from death by reading. At any rate, it fascinated me and I marked the book down as something I wanted to read when it eventually made it to the libraries.

A few years later, I read it. I was completely disappointed.

Three: After The Inheritance of Loss won the Booker, I got my name on a list of people to read it at the university library. I had to wait almost three months between the announcement of the prize and my turn to check the book out.

Near the beginning of the text, Desai gives us a visual picture of Sai (the book's young female character) which I can't quote here for you because I don't have a copy at present. However, it was something along the lines of "she had her hair braided into two sloppy pigtails and was wearing a faded t-shirt."

I, at that very moment, had my hair braided into two sloppy pigtails and was wearing a faded t-shirt. There was a mild burst of excitement. I always like it when sympathetic literary characters look rather like me.

A few pages later, still reading, it suddenly came to me that no, of course Sai wouldn't "look like me," and that I had been naive -- or something else -- to make that assumption.

And later, a bit of a mental debate about which was the stronger qualifier of similarity -- Sai's pigtails, which she chose, or her "ethnicity," which was conferred at birth.

Four: Halfway through A Suitable Boy, suddenly realizing with horror that Seth's epigram

Someone is stabbed in Brahmpur, someone dies
A private shame is viewed by public eyes.
actually meant that one of my beloved characters was going to die. I knew that I could solve this feeling of uncertain dread by peeking to the end of the book to see who it was, but I willed myself not to, and spent the next three hundred pages praying it wasn't Amit.

(Following Neha's example, I'm not going to tag. If you want to play, play. ^__^)

Monday, July 2, 2007

The "I Don't Know What To Wear In India" Post

As I'm just a little over a month from my trip (are you excited???), I am beginning to put together a packing list of sorts for Hyderabad.

One of my primary concerns is that I will be working at the university as a guest director/teacher, but all of my current clothing screams "starving threadbare graduate student."

Sure, I could play that, but I'd rather not. I'd like to dress -- well, if not "to impress," at least "to radiate competence and professionalism."

In short, to look like a for-real grownup teacher. ^__^

The faculty uniform in the US, of course, is fairly casual, although a good few levels above the things I generally wear (not by choice, Team Readers -- by economic necessity ^__^).

I don't really know what the faculty uniform is like in India, though, particularly for women.

Skirts? Slacks? Salwar? Saris? Blue jeans?

As you can see my head is all in a tizzy.

For those who have been there: what would a woman working at a university wear?

Thanks in advance. Y'all rock.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

How Can A Toilet Increase Your Confidence???

Just got alerted to this creepy, creepy web advertisement (hat tip: Salil Maniktahla by way of SepiaMutiny).

Last year, at around this time, we got the Phillips Bodygroom ad... this year, we get the Washlet.

The Bodygroomer was deliberately tongue-in-cheek, with its hero displaying fruit as stand-ins for all the below-the-belt body parts he wanted to shave. But the Washlet is dead serious, and thus, entirely more disturbing.

The Washlet is a toilet seat. It replaces your existing toilet seat. Its function: to deliver a warm, pulsating stream of water to your nether regions, in lieu of toilet paper.

Cool, yes? A variant of the Japanese and desi toilets are now available in the US? Bring it on!

Then the creepiness begins.

First: the claim that the Washlet will increase your confidence. I don't know about you, but if my sense of self-worth is so low that I need a toilet seat to increase my confidence, I have larger issues at hand than can be dealt with by a simple stream of water. Even if the stream can be switched between three different massaging modes.

The ad also consistently states that the Washlet will increase your happiness, which is a little more realistic but still slightly unnerving.

Second: the complete lack of mention of the environment. Whenever anyone mentions the lota or the Japanese toilet, there's always a nod to the fact that water is much better for Mother Earth than shoving a lot of grotty paper down a hole.

The fact that the Washlet never even touches upon this makes me fear that it is actually more harmful to the earth than is toilet paper.

Perhaps it's due to the perpetually-heated toilet seat, which must take a lot of juice. Or whatever's involved in the hydraulic spraying wand, or the "calming, warm-air" dryer that not only cleans one's rear but also sanitizes the toilet itself after every flush.

Third: the clear implication that the Washlet is only for rich people. Everyone else? Grab a teapot.

This is also implied within the list of suggestions of what you can do with your time instead of wiping yourself. That is to say, the Washlet actually hints that you can do business on your Blackberry -- or iPhone -- the entire time you're on the toilet, instead of having to take the thirty seconds to wipe. Maximum productivity!

Maximum creepy.

And finally: the complete lack of reference to the fact that water has been the primary source of hygiene for many areas of the world for thousands of years. This team makes it sound like they invented water. The ad, when asked to present "proof" that the Washlet works, states that they've been testing it since the 1980s without any ill effects. They could have said "look, guys, thousands of people wash their asses with water every day and they don't die." But they don't.

They don't even have any desis in the ad. ^__^

Do watch. It is quite worth the laugh.

Totally Rad!

"How many of you," I thought, "will actually click on the last hyperlink in my 8 Bits of Brown post and watch the introduction to Totally Rad?"

Probably not all of you. Perhaps very few of you.

So I've saved y'all the legwork and brought the link to you, YouTube-style.

Do watch. It is the most hilarious.

"He thinks I have gnarly potential!"

So do we, Totally Rad Intro. So do we.

(Psst... Beth and Miss Bolly -- he does look like 8-bit Hrithik, yes? ^__^)