Document This- Ballerinas, Juicing and Videogames Dorks

I've been slowing down on the documentary front lately, due to the fact that I've been running more, which generally requires music if I'm going for an extended period of time. Here are a few I've managed to finish:

76 minutes
This was actually a really interesting film that followed a few ballerinas of various ages in Russia. These girls are extremely hardcore and it was at times difficult to the pressure that was put on them by themselves and others. Ballet is such a big deal in Russia and it's all the girls eat, sleep and breathe if they end up winning coveted spots at the advanced schools. I must confess I've never been to a real ballet before, but I've always admired their style, elegance and costumes. 

Verdict: It's a little anticlimactic, but still interesting. 

Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead
97 minutes
This documentary followed a man who was very overweight and unhealthy as he launched a two month juice fast with amazing results. He lost a ton of weight and resolved his health issues while traveling across the United States inspiring others. He actually motivated a trucker he found on the road to embark on the same quest, the man finding similar results. I think my main problem with this film is that juicing is not practical for everyone and can actually be more expensive than a normal, healthy diet. Juicing also doesn't teach people how to make good nutritional decisions when they decide to start eating solids again.

Verdict: While I didn't agree completely with their method, I do of course believe that you have to take charge of your own health.

Indie Game: The Movie
94 minutes
I actually watched this one with my husband, since he's a huge indie video game fan. This documentary followed a few groups of developers who were working on highly-anticipated games, showing the trials and tribulations that come with not having a huge studio behind you. I do have to say, though, I was legitimately concerned with some of these creators- they were very hairy, didn't leave their houses frequently, and wept often. They talked about games like Braid, Super Meat Boy and Fez- the only reason why I know some of these is because I've seen my husband playing them. 

Verdict: This was definitely the best of the three- I truly rooted for the men and wanted their games to launch successfully.

John Irving Reading

Last night I drove the 90 minutes out to Santa Monica is order to attend John Irving's reading at the Aero Theater after a really, really long week. Like long as in "grueling, exhausting, I want to shoot myself for oh-so-many reasons" long. But it's over and we're moving on. 

First of all, the parking at the Aero is a complete bitch, which I know is par for the course in that area. Driving through Santa Monica made me extremely nostalgic for my UCLA days- the Big Blue Buses look very different. I know, no one knows what that means. After parking four-ish blocks away, I joined a line that was about two blocks long. Basically, Irving is like the rock star of the book world. Once in and seated, the reading started ten of fifteen minutes long and the audience was told that the format was going to be a little different from normal- Mr. Irving would not be doing a signing, he would not do an audience Q & A, and there would be no interviewer. Apparently when you're John Irving you can do whatever the hell you want (cough, antisocial, cough). In all fairness, though, I'm guessing he might have a little arthritis- he wrestled in his youth, writes his novels by hand (?!?!), and isn't exactly a spring chicken. Attendees were invited to submit questions via email ahead of time, which Irving's assistant and publisher went through. A little strange, but, then again writers aren't exactly normal. 

Irving started off the night by answering some questions regarding his sexuality- many people are wondering if he's a closeted bisexual, since the narrator for In One Person is, as have there been homosexual undertones to some of his other novels. He said that he is not, and did say that he finds it easier to write from the perspective of someone who is gay or bi, compared to someone who has little sex or is celibate, like a few other of his characters (translation: John Irving is a horny bastard). When I read the book I questioned the authenticity of his perspective as a straight man, and, to be honest, still slightly do. But, on the other hand, as someone who has no problem with homosexuality, I guess love is love and sex is sex, no matter who it's between. Would I feel comfortable and legit writing from a lesbian's point of view? Probably not, but he's a professional and I am so obviously not.

He then read a fairly long passage from his novel that centered around the main character have anal sex. Yup, the old man read the butt lovin' scene. He obviously relished saying the words "vagina" and "anal," which the audience found quite amusing. Maybe if he was my grandpa I'd have been disturbed, but there's something about an old man talking about adventurous sex that's pretty damn funny. It wasn't terribly graphic, but still...

Irving finished up with a few more questions, mostly regarding his portrayal of mothers throughout his novels, possible movie projects (he says he hates screenwriting but is considering turning this latest novel into a script, just as he did for his Oscar-winning treatment for Cider House Rules), and his writing process.

And then I downloaded the new-to-me Walk the Moon album and drove allllll the way home back to the land of "we aint have no readings."

As a quick side note, I added a new tab to the toolbar for readings I've attended. When I have more time I'll add the links that have posts, but we'll see when that happens, since life is about to get awesomely hectic starting tomorrow. It was time to take down the running tab- running and I are having some issues right now (I feel the urge to start training again, but I'm not quite sure if it's best for me current fitness goals). 


As an educator, the word "accountability" is word that I'm quite familiar with- at some level, districts, administrators, teachers, students and parents all need to be held accountable. This is a concept I accept professionally and in personal endeavors as well. I hold myself accountable in terms of workouts, calories/nutrition, housework, maintaining relationships, and raising my dogs to be upstanding, successful citizens of the global community (Chomsky and Cordie are very excited to vote in November).

And now I'm done patting myself on the back. 

This sense of responsibility isn't something that shines through in every aspect of my life. I have not held myself accountable when it comes to writing the supposed novel I have semi-dreamed up in my head. This will be the sixth (seventh? eighth?) summer that I've forecasted at least a draft come September. Let's not go there, though. Let's go to Delillo. Mother effing Don Delillo and his doorstop Underworld

I first became enraptured with Underworld my first year in college, back as a UCLA undergrad in 2001-2002. I was taking a writing class and one of the assignments revolved around reading the lengthy prologue to Underworld, which Delillo has actually published as the novella Pafko at the Wall. I should have stopped there! 56 pages of solid, quality fiction that told the exciting story of the Giants beating the Dodgers during the 1951 playoff series while they were both back in New York. But no, I had to ask for the book for Christmas... back in 2002. 

It's 2012. 

I've started and restarted the book several times, but the furthest I've seemed to have gotten is halfway. Apparently last time I took it pretty seriously and busted out the colored tabs. I think this was four years ago. 

I have no clue what the damn markers are for now.

I honestly have no idea why I haven't been able to finish the novel. It's dense and long (over 800 pages), but from what I've read (and remember) it's good. Delillo's descriptions are spot-on, his characters are interesting, and I can't wait until the connections between the sections really show themselves. I'm intrigued, really, I am. 

But isn't that the way? How many things in life do we put off because we fear the anticipation is actually better than the outcome? How many times are we let down by something we've looked forward to for so, so long? Vacations, red velvet frozen yogurt, parenthood (kidding... maybe...), a spa day, road trips, a movie? Or is it the idea of something being actually over that is more disturbing? 

Look what this book is doing to me! I'm attempting to be far too metaphorical and am completely  over-using rhetorical questions. Disgraceful. Dramatics aside, this book is a mountain that I haven't been able to climb and it pisses me the hell off. And so it's time for some accountability.

Last week I started reading Underworld and told myself that all I needed to do was read 25 pages a night (for some reason this takes me 45-60 minutes, depending on the distractions). I made a chart telling myself what page I should be on each day and even started taking notes as I read. Last Monday I got serious. And I did really, really well for four days.

And then I went out Friday night and got off track. And then Saturday was rough and then busy, so I increased the deficit up to 50. On Sunday I had to make up for doing jack crap on Saturday, leaving me up to minus 75 pages. This is not accountability, this is negligence. This is like doing a really good job of feeding your puppy for four days and then forgetting about him for the weekend because you like your friends too much (I have never done this, by the way- pinky swear).

So, in order to hold myself responsible I publicly declaring that I will have Underworld done by July 16th. 

If not I'll read Twilight. Not really.  

Top Ten Tuesday- No Promises Here

The Broke and the Bookish ask us to list our top ten books we plan to read this summer. There are three that I have to read for work, but other than that, I hate to commit... Here's some guesses, but I make no promises!

1. Master Harold and the Boys by Athol Fugard- This was one of the books my students were assigned to read this summer, so I guess I better read it to (there's a prescribed curriculum, I don't just randomly pull books out of my ass for the student to read). I do know that this is a play about race and South Africa.

2. Antigone by Sophocles- Another for work; I read this in high school but definitely need to revisit it. To be honest, I'm not exactly, psyched, but it's short. Greek plays are like drinking wheat grass shots- not always easy to get down for most of us, but so good for you.

3. Thank You for Arguing by Jay Heinrichs- The last one for work. At times I think it's a tad counterproductive to teach kids to be better at arguing....

4. Luminous Airplanes by Paul LaFarge- I'm actually reading this right now am still undecided; it's a little rough around the edges but not bad (the story is about a man who returns to his hometown when his Grandfather dies). I am interested to see how the online component pans out.

5. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann- I've been meaning to read this for a few years. 

6. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harsbach- I actually got the ARC to review from Amazon Vine (I know, I know) several months ago- I should probably get on that...   

7. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver- I'm thinking this might be a nice read, as I continue my little "quest" for healthy eating.

8. Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman- This is for book club, which has been more of a drinking too much/planning fun things club lately, so we'll see when we get on this... 

9. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese- This book seems so good, but also very dense. Summer is probably the best time.

10 Underworld by Don Delillo- I've actually started it again (see above post). Hopefully I'll hold myself accountable this time.

Books on Your Back- Nature Would Not Select You

This shirt from Out of Print is so ridiculously appropriate right now- I just covered Darwin and his contributions to evolution and ecology on Friday. I need to read The Origins of Species, considering I am an English/Biology teacher right now (or, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, if you want to get technical).

Confession- I'm in love with the name Darwin and would love to name a future child that. Unfortunately, my husband isn't quite as enthusiastic and we've had names picked out for the non-existent kids for like a million years. 

As a side note, check out my summer reading guest post on Fancy Napkin. Erinn is out gallivanting around Europe and asked if I'd help out, which of course I was honored to do. Also, a quick thanks to Vanessa at The Gourmet Runner for sending me the Nuun products I won! They're supposed to great while running, but I "hear" they're fantastic for hangovers too...

The Big Green Paperweight

I've been reading a lot of this book lately:

So far, in 7 days of instructions (students are in the same class, all day- 6.5 hours of "butt in seat time") we've covered things such as: basic chemistry, cell organelles, active/transport through the cellular membrane, cellular respiration, photosynthesis, prokaryotes/eukaryotes, DNA's structure (double helix), genes, meiosis, chromosomes, mutations, inheritance, Mendel and his mother-effing pea plants, sex-linked vs. autosomal disorders, Punnett squares, and a little Charles Darwin. And that's just the larger concepts.

My students also learned another valuable lesson today, called "Mrs. S can keep her cell phone out on her desk because she has a BA, Master's, and three teaching credentials, not to mention the fact that she is an adult and students are teenagers and adults trump teenagers every single damn time." It came somewhere after the lesson entitled "How to laugh hysterically when your teacher has a shit-fit because the IT guy accidentally/temporarily messed up her computer and she teaches completely through PowerPoints because she isn't quite sure what she's doing." I understand that these lessons are run on sentences, but guess what? I'm teaching science, bitches! No one cares about grammar in science! It's all "transport protein this" and "heterozygous recessive that." 

Oh yes, we are learning so, so much.

I hate the fast pace, crazy workload, and the long days. I love the future check I'm going to get compensating me for the lost sanity. I like the fact that I now know that if I was ever (God forbid) assigned to teach biology during the regular school year I could do it, and probably decently, since I'd be doing one lesson a day instead of six. 

Oh yes, we are learning so, so much.

Nonfiction Nagging- Wild

We've discussed in great detail about how much I hate Oprah, and while I appreciate that her book club can motivate people to read, I would purposefully never take part in it. Key word: purposefully.

A few weeks ago I ordered Wild by Cheryl Strayed after reading about it in one of my issues of Runner's World- the story of a emotionally fragile woman who decided to take on the Pacific Crest Trail. And then that stupid Oprah bitch had to put it as the first selection of her 2.0 book club (whatever the hell that is). To make matters worse, I really wanted to read it before I hiked Half Dome, meaning I would be reading it at the same time all her little minions would be. Damn it to hell.

In through the nose, out through the nose. 

Let's start over.

I just finished Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, a memoir about her time hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a route that starts at the Mexico-California borders and goes right on up to Canada. Strayed caught the trail in the Mojave, headed towards the base of the Sierras, had to detour by bus because of snow and then rejoined the trail near Reno, where she hiked through to the Oregon-Washington border. Strayed was young, devastated by the death of her mother and failed marriage, and clueless about what to do with the rest of her life. On a random trip to REI to buy a shovel she saw a book on the PCT and soon decided to go for it. 

Quick Synopsis

Strayed was seriously ill-prepared for the monumental task she took on. Her pack was at least twice as heavy as it should have been, her boots were too small (goodbye toenails), and she was constantly broke. She faced hours of loneliness and solitude on the trail (over 100 days), which gave her plenty of time to reflect on what had gone wrong in her life. Strayed cheated on her wonderful husband after her mother died and had dabbled in some hardcore drugs (heroin). She was short of graduating from college by one class and had very little contact with the family she was left with. Strayed was nothing short of a wreck.

Slowly she becomes stronger, emotionally and physically. She picks up valuable insight from other hikers, many of which become friends she sees throughout her trek. Her hikes become more efficient and she becomes a pro at making and breaking camp. She comes to term with what has happened in her life and feels more confident about life as she progresses along the PCT. 


I liked this book, although I thought it was going to be a tad better than it was. I was immediately drawn to it because I too often decide to do things on a whim. It takes me weeks to hem and haw about getting a new pair of Toms, but I decided to go to Italy with my sister in a matter of two days. I've been researching fake grass to install in the backyard for almost a month, but decided to hike Half Dome with my brother after taking a picture of it one winter. I also really appreciated her perseverance and tolerance for pain, dirt, and poor hygiene (she took probably less than ten showers the entire time). I was constantly impressed withe camaraderie between the hikers and the helpfulness of those near the trail, including REI's willingness to overnight her a pair of boots when she called their customer satisfaction line.


I did have a few issues with the text, though. First of all, Strayed includes random tidbits regarding sex that seemed so out of place and awkward (like when she confesses that she hasn't even taken the time to pleasure herself on the trail or when she describes a scene that involves herself and a man, some boulders and a little honey...). At times she's just plain annoying, like when she confesses she wishes her trail name would be something like "mother effing queen of the trail" (or maybe it was "queen of the mother effing trail") or when she manages to lose one of her boots over a mountain (who the hell does that?). There was a lot of wallowing and sentimental reflection, which there's nothing wrong with, I'm just not always the most sympathetic reader (just because your mom died doesn't mean you get to be all slutty and shoot heroin... I guess we all cope in different ways). 

All in all I thought it was a good, quick read that had enough of the nature/roughing it aspect to keep me interested. It was paced well, the narration was thoughtful, and the writing was decent. I am now extremely interested in the PCT and would love to hike some portions of it. I am hoping to get to spend at least a little time on it when I go to Tahoe in a few weeks. If not, there's always next summer...

Books on Your Back- One for Ray

While I'm not a sci-fi fan, I do definitely appreciate Ray Bradbury- I loved teaching Fahrenheit 451, as well as some of his other short stories, to my students. I always bragged on his behalf about the fact that he was still alive and yet over 90. Unfortunately, as of this week, that's not true anymore... In his honor:


Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Top Ten Tuesday- Rewind

The Broke and the Bookish is allowing us to pick from any of their old topics, so I figured I'd do the top ten books "I can't believe I haven't read." I may have done this one before, who knows. My brain is so fried from teaching/planning biology for 9 hours a day (and planning 4 hours last night) that I want to do things that I can't write here because they be incriminating later. I'm kidding. Let's just say I'm not really a serious complainer, but am somehow doing plenty of it right now (and it's not the kids or the fact that I'm working extra). Tomorrow the big-girl panties will be on and Negative Nancy will be sufficiently silenced.

Here we are:

1. Ulysses by James Joyce- It just seems important.

2. The Bible by God (just kidding, by King James... oh wait...)- I didn't have a strong religious upbringing and I've never had the urge. I know I need to for literary reasons.

3. Moby Dick by Herman Melville- I was good-naturedly chastised about this last week by a few colleagues and now I feel slightly guilty. Stupid whale.

4. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller- I know, I know! It fell through the cracks! It's like a doctor failing to learn about, I don't know, the liver.

5. Slaughterhouse- Five by Kurt Vonnegut- Another one that I probably should have read...

6. Underworld by Don Dellilo- I've owned it for like 8 years and have started it over two or three times. It's not bad, it's just that I'm good at making excuses.

7. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck- It just seems so depressing (see above sentence). And dusty (I really, really dislike movies with dirty people, like Westerns- I've more forgiving with books, but still, the Dust Bowl sounds gross).

8. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon- This is a huge confession: I've never read anything by Pynchon. For some reason I got a little carried away with the idea that he's a total sci-fi writer, which is not my genre of choice. 

9. Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov- This was supposed to be our book club selection, but I changed my choice and Lolita remains unread.

10. Fifty Shades of Gray by EL James- Apparently the majority of women between the ages of 18 and 93 have read this... Hmm... I don't think I've heard of it... Oh wait. I'm sorry, but the majority does not rule. I'm also sorry that I will continue to bitch about this book until the next big thing that I disagree with comes along.

Nonfiction Nagging- Let My People Go Surfing

Ever since I watched my beloved 180 Degrees South I have been a big fan of Yvon Chouinard, the founder of company Patagonia and a huge environmental activist. I just finished Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman and have an even deeper appreciation for him now. Here's why:

- Patagonia gives back millions and millions of dollar to various causes, many of which involve the environment in some way. Several years ago a Christian organization was angered by their involvement with Planned Parenthood (Chouinard interestingly pointed out their link with the environment, which never occurred to me: population control) and planned to picket. Patagonia pledged an additional $10 to PP for every protestor that showed- none did. 
- Patagonia is focused on constantly improving the quality of their products while keeping in mind the environment- they aren't willing to compromise either. They search for the most eco-friendly dyes, well-run factories that treat their employees well, and work to incorporate recycled materials into their clothing and gear as much as possible. The thought they put into sustainability, conservation, and quality is impressive.

- Chouinard has been recognized countless times for how he treats his employees- people beg to work there. They provide onsite daycare that offers childcare at a reduced rate,  two months of paid maternity (and I think paternity) leave, and great health care benefits. Employees can take up to two months (fully paid) leave to pursue environmental work and are allowed to adjust their schedule to surf, ski, run, play volleyball or be at home when their kids get off the bus. No one has private offices, employees are given an extra $2,000 towards the purchase of electric vehicles, and are given generous discounts. It's honestly the Google of the outdoor gear world (and they started doing all of these things way before Google did).

- Patagonia tries to never construct new buildings, but to use already existing structures. When they do build from scratch they use recycled materials and hire innovative architects to make green buildings (at the time of this book's publication they were trying to create a new building incorporating rice straw).

- Chouinard and Patagonia have spearheaded countless efforts to eliminate dams, turn land in to protective reserves, and protect mountains from poor climbing techniques. Their work in Patagonia, the company's namesake, has preserved thousands of acres from destruction.

- Chouinard spends some time discussing his business model in terms of profit margins, annual budgets, and supply and demand. I was definitely more interested in the conservation and employee benefits sections, but I still trudged through this (it was actually really easy to understand).

All in all this was a really interesting read. The pictures were great and the idea of a corporation focusing on the people, products, and environment, rather than the bottom line, is inspiring.  

[quick video from 1% for the Planet Foundation, which he co-founded]


Obviously an English major worked on this campaign: 

And it doesn't stop here- there are several mixed in the actual booklet.
So now, when I cruise the aisles of Target, using my "haiku-pons" (okay, kind of lame) for body wash, dog food, and Wheat Thins, I'll be thinking about poetry.