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Good News, Bad News

Dude, Where's My Pancreas?

This is the longest I have gone without writing a blog post. Part of the reason why I have not written here this week is because I have been writing for a Pancreatic Cancer charity called Project Purple. Project Purple raises funds for medical research as well as to assist people who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Project Purple’s motto is “Running to Beat Pancreatic Cancer”. So far, I have been mostly writing features about the people who run to raise money for Project Purple. I am also working on entries featuring pancreatic cancer survivors. Each story is inspirational and I feel so honored to get to interview these amazing individuals and share their stories. I am grateful for the opportunity to help make a difference in some small way for the future of this disease. Please check out the Project Purple website, and read the stories on my…

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Alachua Robotics Institute

Ran into an old friend named Tim in the grocery store yesterday — he used to be my next-door neighbor when I lived up the road in a small town north of Gainesville.  He teaches middle-school math up there and regularly (like, 2 or 3 times) has won the Teacher of the Year Award for Alachua County.  (He also plays guitar and watches lots of interesting movies on Blue Ray.)

Tim told me that in the next year of so, his school and perhaps all Alachua County middle schools will start teaching Robotics as part of math classes — students will actually participate in building robots.  He’s excited that this will excite students, will give them a usable skill, will show them that math does indeed have real-world applications.  I’m excited, too, and happy to hear that our new Superintendent of schools is a forward-looking as he’s seemed to be in the year he’s been in charge.

Robot Dog

Robot Dog

When I was teaching English classes at Santa Fe College, I had a student named Chris who was bright, eccentric, a bit of a Goth (had a lotta Goth students, once word got around that I didn’t disapprove).  Chris was more interested in art than English, though he did all right (his older sister was a little bit better).  He learned to do tattooing — as a business opportunity as well as an art project (and one of my tattoos is his creation\application).

I kept up with Chris after he graduated and enrolled in University of Florida, also here in Gainesville.  Over the years, he taught himself robotics — I’d stop by his house and there would be mechanical creatures scurrying around the house.  This led to a lucrative job with a robotics company out west, Colorado or Arizona.

Lost touch with Chris, but can’t wait for Tim’s new Robotics Institute to come into being — he told me that the story should hit the media in the next few weeks or months.


Nadia Bolz-Weber, Sarcastic Lutheran Pastor

I started reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s blog (Sarcastic Lutheran, ages ago, no doubt put in touch with it by another religious blogger I read, Rachel Held Evans (who wrote Evolving in Monkey Town as well as A Year of Biblical Womanhood).

Hey, what the world needs is a sarcastic Lutheran, maybe more sarcastic Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists, and Catholics.  And I enjoy reading her blog, which regularly posts her Sunday sermons, in both a written and audio version (usually takes them to the middle or end of the week to get the Sunday sermon up).

Bolz-Weber is a recovering alcoholic, drug user, biker, and general hoodlum who turned her life around and came to the pastorate somewhat late in life.  She founded the House for All Sinners and Saints in Boulder, Colorado, and writes about her church extensively in her blog and in her book Pastrix (which is the insulting way to refer to a woman pastor, and insult used principally by those who believe that a woman pastor is wrong, is anathema, heretical, non-Biblical, etc.).

Pastrix, the Book

Pastrix, the Book

I loaned her more-recent book, Salvation on the Small Screen, to my friend Sam, and his enthusiasm about it generated this post.  In Salvation on the Small Screen, Nadia sets herself the project of watching 24 hours of Christian television, inviting friends to watch with her, and writing about it without being too snarky (which seem to me a close-synonym to “sarcastic”).  Sam called me up mid-read to enthuse about the book, and told me that he’d like to have a book club at his church do the book.

The conversation led me to recall that I had another Nadia book, Pastrix, and to decide that it was time to re-read it.  Even more excellent than the first time through, Pastrix is a book about a faith journey by someone who might seem unlikely to end up as a Lutheran pastor.  That Nadia ended up as a Lutheran pastor makes me happy; wish she was in my town and that I could go to her church.


Cheryl Strayed a Household Name

And it’s about time, too.  Strayed’s memoir, Wild, is now a movie set to go into wide release and starring Reese Witherspoon, whose presence should guarantee  an audience.  (I saw it yesterday, and it’s an excellent rendering of the book.  Reese Witherspoon is excellent, and Laura Dern, who plays Cheryl’s mother Bobby, is a lock to get an Oscar nomination — she just radiates grace.)

The Internet meme this week was about the contrast between John Kracauer’s Into the Wild and Strayed’s Wild: From Lost To Found On the Pacific Crest Trail, as if they were actually comparable.  In my brain Christoper McCandless of Into the Wild is batshit crazy, not to mention suicidal, whereas Strayed is pretty thoroughly mis-guided but not insane..  Yes, both go into the wild without adequate preparation, but their reasons for doing so are dissimilar — McCandless is unhinged and doesn’t have any idea where he’s going, while Strayed just wants to hike the Pacific Crest trail.

I’m a huge Cheryl Strayed fan — after reading Wild, I read Torch.  As an online reader of The Rumpus (a magazine of literature, interviews, cartoons, etc.), I became part of the Dear Sugar “cult”;  Sugar was the advice columnist at The Rumpus for years, and when her tenure was coming to an end, Sugar was “outed” as being Cheryl Strayed.

Tiny Beautiful Things Cover

Tiny Beautiful Things Cover

There’s a collection of Dear Sugar The Rumpus pieces (seems a little dismissive and inaccurate to call them “columns,” as they’re pretty substantial) titled Tiny Beautiful Things, and it’s on my bedstand, where I’m re-reading it just because it’s so damned good.  Strayed often replies to those writing in for advice by telling interesting stories from her own life, which she maneuvers into answers to the life and love questions asked.

Anyway, Strayed is soon to be a household word, and it’s a good thing, too.  In fact, I was listening to NPR the other day, and they were interviewing her and Steve Almond, who’s a Rumpus editor.  They said there is now going to be “Dear Sugar Radio.”


Gillian Flynn

So, the first of her novels I read was Gone Girl, about 6 months ago, well in advance of the movie’s release.  I thought it was a page-turner, abundantly mean, interesting characters — Nick Flynn, who as we all know is accused of his wife’s murder (Amy Flynn, Amazing Amy) when she disappears, Amy herself, Amy’s parents, Nick’s sister Margo.  All sorts of evidence keeps turning up that makes it look as though Nick (who’s a bit of a snob, a sexist, and a pig, as well as a bit of a drunk) probably murdered Amy and disappeared her body.

Rosamund Pike & Ben Affleck

Rosamund Pike & Ben Affleck

Won’t say anything more, ’cause maybe some of you haven’t read the book or seen the movie.  BTW, I eagerly awaited the movie’s release, since I’d enjoyed the book and since David Fincher (of Fight ClubSeven and Panic Room, among others) directed, and Ben Affleck & Rosamund Pike starred.

I next read Flynn’s Dark Places, or at least I started it — had to put it down about 70 pages in, because I found it just too grim (which is sort of a compliment, really).  It’s about the survivor of a serial murder — Lily was a small child when her family was murdered, and she managed to hide in a closet.  Her brother Ben is in prison for the murder, but she’s doubtful about whether or not he did it — but also strapped for cash and therefore willing to take money from a group of weirdos obsessed with the murder for making a speech and answering questions, for handing over family pictures and other artifacts.  Yuck.

Just too grim, but I picked it up and finished soon.  In her acknowledgments, Flynn thanks her husband, whom (she notes) still sleeps with her every night “even though he knows how my mind works.”  Funny, in an arch and somewhat mournful way, huh?

A couple of weeks ago my friend Sam passed on Flynn’s Sharp Objects to me, and it’s my favorite of the three Flynn novels — it’s protagonist and narrator, Camille Preaker, is a reporter in Chicago.  Her editor assigns her to go back to her hometown, Wind Gap, Missouri, and rustle up a story on the murders of two young girls there.  Stephen King, known for his generous book jacket blurbs and forewords, says that he “dreaded” the book’s final 30 pages but couldn’t stop turning them.  He notes that afterward, the book “coiled in my mind like a snake.”  Exactly.  Camille Preaker is in just about every significant way a mess, and returning to her hometown and her mother’s house to investigate the murders doesn’t mitigate her unhappiness one bit.

Recommend all three books and the Gone Girl movie.  Hope someone decides to make a movie of Sharp Objects.  Camille’s mom, Adora, would be a great role — Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, are you listening?


Begin Again

Does it sometimes seem as if Mark Ruffalo is in every movie?  Well, he has done 30 movies in the past 10 years, according to Internet Movie Database (  But I like him, it seems as if he’s always good, he gets award nominations, and he’s especially good in last year’s Begin Again, a movie also starring Keira Knightley, about music and written\directed by John Carney, who wrote and directed Once.


Keira Knightley

Keira Knightley

Knightley plays Greta, an aspiring singer\songwriter, and Ruffalo plays Dan, a “de-frocked” record company executive and music producer.  He’s “de-frocked” because he’s a drunk, and he’s mis-behaved his way out of a job and a marriage (Hallie Steinfeld plays his daughter, and Catherine Keener is his ex-wife).  Greta is from England, and she’s 90% out of a relationship to the musician who’s come with her to New York (played by Adam Levine, the frontman for Maroon 5).

“Begin Again” might be a musical instruction — to start over and play the piece one more time from the beginning. But of course it has more global connotations related to relationships and starting over, and so it is here.  There’s a magical scene early in the movie in which Greta is performing in a bar, and Dan is in the audience.  She’s clearly not a polished performer and is a little tentative, but as Dan watches you can see him come alive — he’s taken with the strength of the song, and she (being Keira Knightley) is truly quite beautiful.  As he watches, suddenly there’s a drumkit and drummer behind her, then a bass player, then a violinist.  At first I was confused — is this really happening?– but quickly I realized that Dan, being a music producer, is mentally supplying the song with the other instruments it needs for a realized production.  As in Once, Carney is interested in how music works, how a song is composed and put together, and shows us just how that might be done with Greta’s song.

If you’ve seen a few movies, you can easily see where this is going — Dan and Greta “meet cute” (as the expression goes), experience a little conflict, but ultimately agree to work together, recording her songs in a number of New York City locations.  Dan rustles up backup musicians (including his daughter Violet, who surprises him by requesting to play guitar on a song, a skill he, absentee dad that he is, doesn’t realize she has.

Thoroughly charming, and Knightley can really sing — as I noted, she’s a little tentative in that early song, but she gets better, becomes more assured as she goes on.

So both Greta and Dan get to begin again.


Why I Love “Clueless”

Well, is it because I love Jane Austen, and Clueless (1995) is an insanely-dead-on riff on Jane Austen’s Emma?  Yeah, in part, but mostly because I’m a huge fan of Amy Heckerling’s movies (she directed Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Making Mr. Right), and Clueless is a brilliant addition to the Heckerling oeuvre.

And it’s so funny.  Austen is the patron saint of funny, but Clueless takes it a step further, imagining Austen’s heroine (Emma) as a Beverly Hills teen named Cher, obsessed with clothes, shopping, hanging out at high school, and (especially) re-arranging everyone’s love lifes.

Cher re-negiates her grades, helping teacher after teacher understand how the grade she was originally given wasn’t the actual grade she deserved — and receives plaudits from her father (a lawyer, a litigator, played by the always-solid Dan Hedaya) –“You re-negotiated your grades?  Well done!”  And she successfully match-makes one of her teachers, played by Wallace Shawn.


But finally, as it happens in Emma, Cher is dreadfully wrong in her matchmaking career — she fails to notice how Travis Birkenstock (love that name!) is the perfect match for her friend Tai, played  by Brittany Murphy (now sadly deceased).  They’re party girls, thinks Cher, and will match up best with the glittery boys, the most popular guys in the school.  Cher’s other BFF, Dionne, is played by Stacey Dash.

Truth is, Cher is snobbish and class-conscious, and her politics are less than admirable.  She thinks that Travis, who’s a skater and overall a bit of a hippy, is below her friend Tai, who like Cher is a rich girl, mostly interested in shopping.  And Cher completely overlooks her stepbrother, Josh (played by the admirable Paul Rudd) — after all, he’s a bit of an environmentalist and a supporter of liberal political causes (but he’s also a lawyer and does some work for her father).

Like Emma, though, in the end Cher wises up and actively promotes that Tai\Travis alliance — and hooks up with Josh, whom she has had comfortable conversation after comfortable conversation with throughout the movie without realizing that she’s in love with him.

As the title has it, clueless.





Post Secret

It’s a Website, one I look at regularly, described as follows by its founder, Frank Warren:

PostSecret is an ongoing community mail art project, created by Frank Warren, in whch people mail their secrets anonymously on a homemade postcard. Selected secrets are then posted on the PostSecret website, or used for PostSecret’s books or museum exhibits.  Frank also tours, doing live PostSecret shows all over the country.  He shares secrets from the site on a large screen that enables the audience to see them, and answers questions.  (Videos online of the shows are worth a look.)

New secrets are posted on Sunday, and I usually look at them on Sunday.  Sometimes the secrets speak of, or reveal, severe mental health issues, and thankfully the site has a suicide prevention aspect, a link to suicide hotlines, etc.

That’s not where the fascination is for me, though; it’s the sharing of secrets that are, first, something never shared before, and second, true (no way of assessing either of these, but for me and I imagine, most Post Secret fans, if it’s plausible, then it’s true, and as far as never been shared before, who knows?)

The address is, and here’s a picture:

Post Secret

Post Secret


Gone Girl — the Movie

There are a few spoilers here, so be alert (but if you’ve read the book, you already know them).  Went to see Gone Girl this afternoon at its opening performance in my local cineplex, and it did not disappoint the hi expectations I had for it, based on the excellent novel by Gillian Flynn (read it twice!), who also wrote the screenplay. I’m a big fan of Gone Girl director David Fincher, who has Fight Club, Seven, The Panic Room, and Zodiac among his credits.

First off, the movie is visually beautiful, not that such a thing is important, but anyway.  And Flynn\Fincher handle the various stories and different times\places very smoothly.  We start with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, very good) talking to his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon, pretty unknown in movies but excellent) about his 5th wedding anniversary and what do do for his wife.  Nick goes home to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike– remember her name) gone and impossible to locate, which leads to a massive search and much police attention on the less-than-suitably-distraught husband, Nick.  (One of my movie favorites, Kim Dickens, expertly plays the detective who’s investigating the Dunne disappearance (or is it homicide?)).

Black Widow

Black Widow

Rosamund Pike gives one of the great Black Widow performances in my recollection, and there have been many, with plans in the works for Scarlett Johanssen to play the Avengers Black Widow character in an upcoming movie.   In the movies, a black widow character is a woman who kills, betrays, or otherwise engages in illegal\immoral\unpalatable behavior to advance her nefarious ends.  Pike essentially has to play two characters, the Amy who is married to Nick and fiendishly plans both her disappearance as well as the appearance that Nick had all sorts of motives to kill her; and she also plays the disguised Amy character who goes on the run the day she becomes “gone girl.”

Rosamund Pike & Ben Affleck

Rosamund Pike & Ben Affleck

A lot has been written about both book and movie, with likely more to come, as we parse whether or not the book\movie are misogynist, misandrist, or other.  My view is that Nick deserves to get his life pretty much ruined by Amy, though the last part of the movie (like the book) leaves in doubt what the new terms of their arrangement will be.  Best comment I’ve read noted that the movies shows just how close “marital detente” is to “homicidal rage.”   I predict Oscar nominations for Pike and Fincher, and it seems to me that Gillian Flynn is a mortal lock for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar- – but who knows what I’ve missed and what will happen in movies by the end of 2014?


Program Jargon (Jargon & Buzzwords in General)

I spent much of my teaching career doing Technical Communication, which is a rather non-theoretical discipline — very nuts-and-bolts, the specifics of workplace writing.  The take-home message is, we’re busy people here at BigCorp (for instance), so tell us what you need to tell us clearly and simply, with no extra words.  And please, no buzzwords or jargon.  (We often referred to a book called Why Business People Talk Like Idiots: and How To Stop Them.  There’s a Website by Ranker, here:
Why Business People Speak Like Idiots

Why Business People Speak Like Idiots

 On the subject of my longstanding and ongoing war against jargon, a meeting the other day sort of vexed me (SORT OF!  I
   was punching walls and swearing all afternoon, but I got over it.)
   I was vexed because:
     1. We had a speaker, who was good for the first 15-20 minutes but then rambled on for maybe 15-20 more.  I wish people
     who agree to be speakers would have a little respect and prepare themselves.  (This is off the topic of buzzwords and
     jargon, but one important thing about buzzwords and jargon is that it’s lazy to use them, in the sense that the speaker or
     writer can’t be bothered to be clear and speak in a language we all share.  And can’t be bothered to be a good steward of
     other people’s time and attention.
     2. In the discussion that followed (brief — speaker went on too long), the jargon was flying.  For instance, people said “went out,” “picked up,”
      or “took my will back.”  The first two are vague and euphemistic — don’t say “picked up” to me; say, “drank” or “got drunk.”  (I can pick up all
      day, but there’s no problem until I drink it.)
Don’t say “went out”; say “drank,” “got drunk,” or even “relapsed.”
And please please please don’t say “took my will back”;  tell me specifically what happened– “took my will back” could mean about 19 things (maybe 20, maybe 200).
OK, that was the ranting portion of the evening; now it’s time for serenity and compassion.  Yes, I get it why people pick up the jargon of groups they’re a part of — people want to be comfortable, want to be part of something, and using group jargon is a way to achieve those things.  To an extent it’s not deliberate, just automatic — seems as if the group jargon is the way things like, say, drinking or relapsing are expressed.  So it’s not malicious or stupid to use jargon.   However, jargon can move people away from speaking the truth in their own words, which to me is always what we’re looking for in communication.
At last Friday’s Free To Be meeting, a friend of mine told us that she’d had a bad and stressful week, and added, “I drank last Sunday.”  Four words, no jargon (she didn’t “take my will back” or “pick up”); we all knew exactly what she meant.  I was so proud of her.