Catching Up

Actually, I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up ever since I got back from California, and that was that was seven weeks ago!  But I’ve had a lot going on since then.  Let’s face it, life never really slows down, does it?  And would we really want it to?  All that busy stuff keeps us up and moving.  I haven’t been bored, I’ll say that much.

Last week I had a birthday–let’s not worry about which one it was–and Jo Anne, Sarah Andre, Lark Howard and I celebrated by driving out to Katy Budget Books for a launch party for our friend Shana Galen’s latest book, When You Give a Duke a Diamond.  It says a lot about Houston traffic that it took us about an hour and twenty minutes to get out to Katy at rush hour and about twenty-five minutes to get back two hours later.  But the time navigating through traffic (Jo Anne was driving, but she got a lot of advice from the back seat) was well spent.  At dinner later we realized that without our writing connections, the four of us would probably never have met, and that would have been a loss.  Lark gave us her take on the evening last week at Reading, Writing and Rambling, the blog she shares with our friend Pat O’Dea Rosen.

Later in the week I had a second birthday dinner with my next-door neighbor and her daughter, a lovely meal at a charmingly old-fashioned Italian restaurant, Antonio’s in LaPorte, Texas.  Seafood fettuccini with lemon garlic sauce, yum.  LaRue gave me this charming little porcelain kitten box.  It’s less than three inches long, so I’m not sure what it’s meant to hold, but for the moment it’s sitting on my monitor stand, after becoming yet another victim of my attempts at photography.

Books:  not much reading this week.  I did finish Tera Lynn Childs’ Just for Fins, the third book in her Young Adult mermaid trilogy.  I don’t read a lot of YA fiction, but I’ve enjoyed this series, a light paranormal tale set in Florida (and underwater, of course).  I started Cheryl Bolen’s Marriage of Inconvenience, which I am enjoying.  I have an early copy; the book will be released October 2.

TV:  This afternoon I finally watched last week’s SYTYCD, a pure performance episode.  I don’t know, or really care, who’s going to win the titles Tuesday evening (and I’ll have to record that one, too–I have a meeting that night), but all four of the remaining dancers are amazing.  Who would have thought a few weeks ago that Cyrus the Animator would be in the final four?

This evening, of course, I watched Hell on Wheels.  Another bloodbath.  This is the most violent show I watch–I was going to say the only one, but Major Crimes last week ran up a pretty substantial body count–and I remain completely hooked.  By the characters, and the background, not the bloodshed.

This week I’m looking forward to the return of Bones, the premier of Revolution and the season finale (alas) of White CollarWarehouse 13 has three more episodes to run, and Castle will be back next week.  There is no standard TV season these days, is there?  But there are always new stories to enjoy, and, I hope, to learn from.

Thursday Thoughts

I’m feeling totally scattered as the RWA conference thunders toward me.  Still too much to do, but I almost feel on top of things.  My neighbor is going to feed Nutmeg (yes, she’s eating, having finally decided that her hunger strike wasn’t accomplishing much except to make her hungry), so she won’t have to go stay in a cage at the vet clinic.  I still have a fairly short shopping list, mostly drugstore stuff, but I can do that this weekend.  I have a recommendation for long-term parking from a friend who travels a lot.  I’m getting things finished at work.  I’m going to Anaheim!

I watched So You Think You Can Dance last night, of course.  The format is a little different this summer, one show a week instead of two.  So far that seems like a good idea.  Last week’s show was all dance and no eliminations, so this week four of the six dancers who pulled in the lowest vote totals last week were let go.  To my untrained eye, all the dancers were wonderful last night, but I particularly enjoyed the Bollywood number.  I’ve never seen an actual Bollywood musical, but if they are half as joyful and entertaining as the SYTYCD numbers, it’s no wonder the Indian movie industry is booming.

It took me a while to get through the five hundred pages of The Mathematics of Magic, the complete collection of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s tales of Harold Shea’s travels through worlds of myth and literature.  This edition from the NESFA Press includes two stories de Camp wrote solo after Pratt’s death, “Sir Harold and the Gnome King,” set in an Oz somewhat changed from Baum’s version by the passage of time, and “Sir Harold of Zodanga,” a visit to Barsoom.  Although the de Camp/Pratt stories are very old favorites of mine (see Memory and Magic), I’d never read the latter two tales.  Happily, the whole collection proved to be as entertaining as I remembered.

Here’s a little charmer, a new baby at the Houston Zoo.  He’s only a few days old, weighs 160 pounds, and stands six feet tall–proof that Nature looks out for her babies by making them adorable, no matter how large.  He doesn’t have a name yet, but you can vote on that, and see more pictures, at the Houston Zoo website.   The Houston Chronicle also has pictures.

Wandering on Wednesday

So You Think You Can Dance came back last month, with several weeks of auditions, demonstrating that more than a few people only think they can dance.  But this year’s auditions mostly showcased wonderful dancers, and tonight the last thirty-five contestants were whittled down to the Top Twenty.  Now those twenty have two weeks to bask in the thrill before the competition begins and the first two dancers are sent packing.

I can hardly express how impressed I am by these brave young people, not just by their talent–I know nothing about dancing, and everyone who made it to the Las Vegas call-backs looked spectacular to me–but by their courage in competing in such a public venue.  Yes, they are entertainers, but putting it all out there in spite of the possibility of being the first one eliminated takes guts.  More guts than I have.  I was also impressed this evening by how many of the Top Twenty dancers were not trying out for the first time.  Several of them had come back year after year.  One young woman who made it through tonight had been the last dancer eliminated, number twenty-one, last year.

This year the show will have two winners, male and female, and the make-up of the Top Twenty is a bit different than in past seasons.  The judges chose three with ballet training (two guys, one girl), three with Latin ballroom experience (two girls, one guy), three jazz dancers, one belly dancer (!), and several falling (or dancing) into the general category of contemporary dancers.  Only three, all guys, are what I think of as urban street dancers, largely because I have no grasp at all of the subgenres involved.  They referred to one as a stepper and one as an animator; the third, a particularly handsome young man of Asian descent, combines martial arts with dance.  It ought to be a very entertaining summer.

I’ve been concerned about Nutmeg for a couple of days, so this morning I left her at the vet clinic near my home for a check-up and diagnosis of a problem manifesting, shall we say, in the vicinity of her tail.   Dr. Roof (yes, his canine patients call him by name) says she has colitis brought on by–I am ashamed to admit–obesity.  Yes, I am a bad Pet Parent.  In my defense, Nutmeg was a butterball when I adopted her from Second Chance Pets a couple of years ago.  She had been rescued, along with three kittens, from a storm drain, and somehow it seemed mean not to indulge her.  But now she weighs almost sixteen pounds, and she just doesn’t have the skeleton for it.

So we came home with antibiotics for ten days (Nutmeg took the first one from Dr. Roof with as much surprise on her face as a cat can muster–we’ll see if she accepts the next one as readily), a small jar of the feline equivalent of diaper rash cream (that should be as much fun as the pills) and a case of prescription high-protein low-carb cat food.  This evening she has shown no interest whatsoever in the (fairly expensive) cat food, but cats are not stupid.  If that’s all there is, she’ll eat it.  Then again, maybe that’s how the diet works.

My neighbor says we have baby owls in the backyard.

The competition dancing began tonight

on So You Think You Can Dance, and for the first time I was tempted to vote (for Iveta, the elegant ten-dance ballroom champion, and Nick, the tap dancer, for their super quick step), since it was announced we could vote on line.  Unfortunately I discovered that the online voting runs through Facebook.

I don’t Facebook.  (Has Facebook been accepted as an official verb yet?)  I’m rather proud of myself for getting this far with WordPress in the last two months.  Sooner or later I suppose I too will be sucked into Facebook, if only to “like” the author pages put up by my friends (I have only a vague idea of what that actually means) or to vote for my favorite dancer, but I’m really trying to avoid it.  The other morning I heard a news report that Facebook use is beginning to drop off in well-established markets like the US and the UK, although it’s still growing in newer markets.  (Whatever happened to My Space, by the way?)

But back to the dancing.  I love the show for the music, the costumes, and the amazing dancing, but I admire the young dancers (I believe Iveta, at 30, is the oldest contestant–some of them are still in high school) for their guts.  After years of experience in the relatively anonymous world of writing contests, I stand in awe of kids willing to do anything the choreographers throw at them in front of a national audience.  I know well how the thrill of being one of six finalists plucked from a field of fifty or sixty entries melts away when one comes in sixth in the final standings.  My heart hurts for the dancers who, after their moments of triumph as finalists, are eliminated in the early rounds.

And all of it in public!  My contest triumphs receive a degree of publicity within the community of romance writers, but I never have to mention the contests in which my manuscripts have not reached the finals.  Only my closest friends know when I bomb.  I may get savaged by an “East German judge” from time to time, but I never fall on my butt in public.  (Well, actually I once did that, in a park in Mexico City, and several Latin gentlemen came rushing to my rescue.  Any laughter was sympathetic.)

So here’s to all the contestants on this season of SYTYCD, especially the two who will be sent home tomorrow evening, because whoever they are, they are fantastic dancers. Maybe by next week I’ll figure out how to vote with my seldom-used cell phone.

So You Think You Can Dance

really lives up to its name during the audition shows.  Some wonderful dancers try out, of course, and move on to the next round, but some of them–well, they think they can dance, and maybe their moms do, but the judges and the audience know better.  SYTYCD is the only reality and/or competition show I follow.  I’m not a dancer, not even a social dancer, and I frequently have no idea why the professional judges like or dislike anything.

But I love the show.  Dancing, music, costumes, choreography, suspense, SYTYCD has it all.  As a veteran of too many writing contests and sometimes scathing judging, I admire anyone willing to put their hopes and talents on public display as these young dancers do.  I also admire the way the dancers waiting to audition cheer for the ones on stage, and the way the eventual contestants help and support each other.

I’ve caught occasional episodes of some of the other competition shows.  American Idol and Dancing with Minor Celebrities are also, as far as I’ve seen, based on talent and/or hard work.  The Great Race certainly involves hard work, as well as strategy, manipulation, and now and then spiking someone else’s wheels.  Survivor appears to me to be based entirely on manipulation, trickery and doing unto someone else before they can do it to you.

Of course, I’m not forced to watch any of these shows, and generally I don’t.  What brings the whole subject to mind is the fact that I’m about halfway through reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.  I don’t read a lot of YA lit, although I’m happy that so many young people are fueling the current popularity of the genre.  First person present tense narration is not my favorite form.  But The Hunger Games and its sequels have gotten such great word of mouth (and mouse) that I picked up the set.

Collins’ Hunger Games are reality TV run amok, with a flavoring of Theseus and the Minotaur.  Twenty-four teenagers, “tributes” from the twelve districts of a post-Apocalyptic North America, are thrown into the games.  Some are volunteers and some have lost the lottery, but only one will survive, while the entire populace must watch as punishment for past rebellion and warning against another attempt.  The wealthy dwellers in the Capitol bet on the action, and the deaths, all of which are televised, twenty-four/seven.

By page 200, and after several days in the vast “arena,” only nine or ten of the kids are left alive.  These include Katniss, and as she is our first-person narrator, we know she will survive, but Collins keeps us on the edge of our seats, hoping that she will accomplish more, that she won’t be the only survivor, that she will somehow turn the Games upside down.  And we cringe a little, and wonder just what popular entertainment says about any society.

The Hunger Games is bleak, even for a post-Apocalyptic vision, but it won’t let me go until I find out how Katniss survives.  And I will read the sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, for the rest of the story, although I’ll probably take a break and read something light between them.  And on TV I’ll stick with SYTYCD, which sends its eliminated dancers off alive and well, with an introduction to their next career opportunity and every expectation of a successful future.