Saturday, January 23, 2016

A cat, a book, and a good cause
(Bring Quincy to the USA)

So here's the deal: I am fundraising to bring Quincy, the amazing cat we rescued from the street in Guangzhou when he was an abandoned 4-week-old kitten, the very cat you see pictured on the left side of this blog, from China to the U.S.

(If you'd like to just donate to the cause straightaway without being bothered to read any further, I will not stop you: here's the link. But if I were you, I'd read on to see what you can get out of other options for donating.) 

The problem is, essentially, that it costs a whole lot to fly a cat from China to the U.S., not to mention the several circles of Chinese bureaucracy that have to be navigated before he can get on the plane. AND I'm managing all this from a distance. Although I have been trying to save up for this endeavor, we are now up against a February deadline (when the people in Tianjin who now have Quincy are leaving Asia for good) and are short of funds. What kind of funds? We're talking, basically, a $2,000 swirl of bureaucracy, vaccine checks (yes, we got his shots previously, but the government needs us to pay them to check his vaccine status in order to approve his emigration), customs fees, export health examination, the flight itself, etc.  It's a bit maddening. But those of you who followed the saga of Quincy back when we originally rescued him, and watched him (online) develop into the playful, good-hearted, creative, magnificent young cat that he became, may understand why it's worth the cost to bring him back to people who love him instead of leaving him to the uncertainty of fate. 

Here's where we get to what's in it for you. Despite the magical things crowd-sourced fundraising can do (e.g. pay for a lot of young drunk people's Uber rides, or Tila Tequila's rent), I did not actually want to ask for money, to ask people to give something for 'nothing.' But what could I give? I asked myself. Well, anyone who knows me probably knows that there is one thing I have a lot of: books. And so, this.

If you donate to the Bring Quincy to the U.S.A. cause, I will give you a book of mine. 

I will select it personally, basing my decision on who you are, what I know of you, our friendship, what I think you might like -- you get the idea. 

Do I want to part with my books? Of course not. But there's something that is even more important to me than my books, and that is Quincy. A sacrifice, they say, is when you give up something you want for something you want more. Well, I can definitely see that definition applying here. 

So, you see, everybody wins!
*I raise the money, and ponder what's truly important.
*You get a book, and the satisfaction of contributing to a good cause. (And a fun surprise!)
*Quincy gets to come live with us in the USA, with the people who saved, raised, and loved him. 

You can send your donation however you like -- PayPal the gift directly to me (a good option), use Chase QuickPay (a very good and easy option), use the GoFundMe link, put a check in the mail, whatever makes you happy. (Note that sending money directly avoids the GoFundMe fees.) I will then give you (if you're local) or send to you (via the cheap media mail of course) a book that I select for you. It's yours forever, to read, cherish, ignore, keep, regift, throw across the room--your call. (Donation amount? Whatever you think a book and/or Quincy is worth. You decide.) 

It's basically like you're buying a book, which you should be doing anyway, right? (Riiighht???) But instead of supporting Amazon or whatever this time, you can support the awesome Quincy. 

Feel free to email or message me for more information or if you have any questions at all. I would love the opportunity to select a book from my personal collection for you in exchange for your kindness in helping the Bring Quincy Quest. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Oscar season in full swing

It has been a few days since the Oscar nominations were announced. Let's check in and see where we are. (Oh, wait, you mean, you don't have regular check-ins with yourself to chart your progress during Oscar season? What's [not] wrong with you?)

On Thursday, when the nominations were announced, this is basically where I was at.  I had seen 13 out of 16 of the multiple nominees, missing only The Revenant, The Big Short, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, all of which I will surely see, but in good time as I do not like to see movies during their first couple of weeks because too popular = too crowded in the theater. Of the 13, here is my rough order of how much I enjoyed them: Steve Jobs, The Martian, Spotlight, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Hateful Eight, Sicario, Room, Ex Machina, Brooklyn, Bridge of Spies, Inside Out, The Danish Girl, Carol. Basically, the first ten I just listed were good, then Inside Out was fine (I can see its charms, absolutely, but just don't get quite as blown away as some do), and then The Danish Girl and Carol are both big ol' snooze fests that are completely self-aware as Oscar bait/overblown heavy-righteous themes but are partly saved by good performances, mostly from Alicia Vikander. Also, her wardrobe in The Danish Girl is pretty much the greatest and I want to steal every dress she wore and it should win for Costume Design. Other things that should win? Sicario for Cinematography. Can we just award that right now? So amazing. So well done. The second I walked out of that movie, several months ago, I said, "Cinematography Oscar." I just don't know how The Revenant will compete.

Of the single nominees, I had seen Joy, Trumbo, and Amy, and have since seen Creed (that is a whole lot of one-word titles; fun fact: the first names of the women but the last names of the men) and Cartel Land. No judgment from me yet about whether Amy or Cartel Land is better; they are two VERY different documentaries, but both do really well at depicting aspects of a situation without telling you what to think. Joy is overrated and Creed and Trumbo were both fine for what they were. Sylvester Stallone is on the almost-a-sure-thing track like The Revenant right now, though. I've got a bunch of the other one-off noms stacked in my Netflix queue and a few others, like 45 Years, Boy and the World, and a couple of the Foreigns are coming to some theaters around Chicago. And by the way, I would just like to gratefully acknowledge that right now I do have some major budget constraints but am luckily, very luckily, mightily luckily, able to have access to some gift cards/free movie tickets at several very awesome theatres, allowing me to see a bunch of flicks I would otherwise not be able to right now, for which I am profoundly grateful.

The shorts will be making their way to theaters as always, and I hope to get a chance to see those.

Really, I will end up being able to see everything, except Fifty Shades of Grey, which is nominated for one of its songs and which I will steadfastly make a point of not seeing.

Oscar complaints:
*Yes, they are so white. This is a problem. It's a pervasive problem in the industry, and I can't blame the Oscars for reflecting it. In fact, maybe we ought to be grateful to the Oscars for drawing attention to this problem when no one seems to pay attention to it during the rest of the year.
*Get it together, Supporting Actress category. Neither Alicia Vikander nor Rooney Mara belong there. Both played leading roles. Maybe you were thinking of Alicia V. in Ex Machina. Maybe you meant to put Charlize Theron from Mad Max: Fury Road...who was also kind of a lead, in a way...
*Keeping in mind that I haven't seen The Big Short and The Revenant yet, I look at the Directing category and think Danny Boyle for Steve Jobs should have been in there, maybe over Tom McCarthy?
*The score of Carol was so boring and derivative -- trying to imitate Philip Glass' awesome music from The Hours, were you? Sigh. I can appreciate the technical achievement of that movie but it just did not move me at all. And viscerally, I loathe it--I really can't stand that fetishizing of the 1950s and early 1960s. I just can't. It's why I don't enjoy things like his previous film Far From Heaven, or Happy Days, or Grease, or Mad Men. When I watch Mad Men I just get the howling fantods, and the feel of it, so similar to the feel of Carol, is why. Not my cup of tea.
Other comments:
*The Sound Editing category is full of amazing work.
*I had never heard of Racing Extinction before nomination day.
*The Foreign nominee from Jordan, Theeb, was actually playing near here in December the week before Christmas when I was swamped with work, holiday planning, Christmas, all that jazz. I had the flyer for it and wanted to see it but missed it. Have any of you had the chance to see it? It might be one of the few I don't see before Oscar night, waiting for Netflix to get it.

So, Oscar season is off to a great start. I'll check back in as I continue to work through it. What about you? What are your favorites so far?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Twenty Sixteen
plus a bit of a twenty fifteen rewind

Well, hello team!

Are you wondering what ever happened to this blog? Were you sure it had met its demise, never to be resurrected? Does your curiosity get the better of you some nights, as you sit there thinking that maybe Linda has, I don't know, suddenly found herself with some borders?

Maybe you thought personal blogging had gone the way of the dinosaur, the Model T, the Beta VCR... After all, it does seem like the internet is pretty hopped up about blogging for business, blogging your brand, and just generally caring more about product and platform than jabbering. That's all well and good, but it isn't why I stopped blogging. Really, it's been more mundane. I had major laptop issues and went computer-less for vast swaths of time (blogging from a phone? just no) and on top of that, I spent the bulk of 2015 working a part-time job that took as much time as a full-time job. That's fun for exactly no one!

But anyhow, it's a new year and things are new and different. But some things are also the same. For example, here are some things that totally stayed the same from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2015: Cats. Job. Apartment. City.  This in itself is pretty nuts. For the first time in ages, we renewed a lease, and so here we still find ourselves in Chicago, happily residing near Lincoln Square even though moving inland from the Lake initially seemed like a fall from grace. And the same job! (That part-time one that might as well have as a slogan "All the hours, none of the health insurance.") I am so used to ESL-teaching jobs being one year contracts. Having instead a U.S. office, co-workers, an annual review, and stuff like that as I teach English is still a little weird to me on some level.

But did 2015 bring anything new and different? Let's see. Things I did in 2015 that I had never done before:
*Visited Madison, Wisconsin (twice!) -  I had been to Wisconsin, but never to Madison, and in 2015, I discovered that I really like that city. conveniently located just under three hours from Chicago as it is. We also visited Devil's Lake State Park, in the Madison area, inspired by an article I came across that recommended the top-rated hike in every state. Now by "top rated" this particular piece did not mean the best, per se, but the actual top-rated-by-online-trail-raters on a particular site, so there's definitely room for an amateur vote to get in there, but it was still interesting, and in fact we later also visited the Illinois top hike, Palos Park, which is just a short piece from here, towards south suburban Chicago. (Or at least what I think of as the south suburbs. I'm still so decidedly Not From Around Here.)
*Pilgrimaged to and "climbed" to  a High Point: Speaking of hiking...I started in on another project which has been a longtime goal of mine, to climb to the high points in all of the fifty states plus D.C. This, by the way, is a thing, and there's a Highpointers club and whatnot, and may I just tell you that I first got into this back when you still sent off for the information via U.S. mail, OK? Of course, at that time I was living in Arizona, and then California, and neither of those two states' high points are ones you just go climb on a whim one day, and then I ditched the car and switched to public transit lifestyle for the next decade on the East Coast and in Asia on. But being in the Midwest, with a car, and finally being able to do stuff like that again that I want to do, I hopped in the car and pilgrimaged to the highest elevation in Illinois, Charles Mound. Spoiler alert: It's not that high. This is Illinois, after all.
*Saw Patty Griffin in concert. Saw other good live music in Chicago, too, including the Girls twice (hello, that would be Indigo Girls) and quite a few bands at the many, many festivals that make up summer in Chicago, but seeing Patty had been a goal for a while.
*Ran my tenth 10K: My Year of Ten 10Ks was not actually a calendar year; it went from summer of 2014 to summer of 2015, so I finished it up with the same one I started with, the Reeds Lake Run in East Grand Rapids, no thanks to the Tiki Run here in Chicago that was meant to be my tenth but got rained and lightninged out one stormy June night.
*Spent a lot of time in Indiana: Have I mentioned I'm in the Midwest? It's really starting to sound like it, isn't it? I'm starting to know all the landmarks on I-65, and to know which exits have the Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks and stuff. This is mostly due to trips to see Brian's various relatives in various towns for various festive occasions, but I also hit up the Hoosier State to see a friend from law school and a friend from high school, so who says this isn't just the crossroads of 'MURica? Still haven't done the high point or the top-rated hike of Indiana, though, but that's on the 2016 agenda. Right now this little thing called winter is in the way of blazing through the Midwest trails.
*Took a guitar class at the legendary Old Town School of Folk Music, which by the way is just down the street. Have I mentioned we like our neighborhood? If only I didn't always go, like, eight years between guitar classes, I might be pretty good by now. Can't you just hear the Murmurs singing "You Suck" in your head? ("Right now there's dust on my guitar, you !@$%*...")   I do still have my Murmurs shirt, from the era of my first guitar class... I also took a German class in 2015, at the Dank Haus German American Cultural Center, which is -- you guessed it -- down the street. It was super fun to have my high school German come back to me.  And super duper fun to take so many classes in the neighborhood!

Hmmm.... I can't really remember what else I did in 2015 that was new. Of course we tried new restaurants (we are in Chicago after all) and saw new plays (ditto). Maybe I should also mention some of my things that I continued over the past year, like my million and one book and movie projects that go on and on but in which I am in fact making progress (in the Prez Bio quest I'm finishing up Nixon! That means I've reached my actual lifetime!)

Basically, what happened in 2015 was that I just kind of lived. Here in the U.S. In the Midwest. Most of the time this fills me with a kind of what-the-hell shell shock. Other times, I like that things are generally easy, that I don't have to really notice them--but I do miss being abroad. I miss being around people that don't think the U.S. is the one and only place to be. At least I can tap into foreign media reasonably easily, but when you live in a country you're surrounded by its media culture even in ways you can't always pinpoint.

Then there's the whole effort/debacle/frustration/money pit of health insurance in the U.S. (particularly when one works at a part-time job that takes the effort of a full-time job but gives no health benefits), but let's not get into that just now, eh? We've got the whole year of 2016 ahead of us in which we can rant about stuff.

What are you up to in 2016?