This is not a highlight reel from my week.   This is an unconsidered burst from the mental Kalashnikov.

Diet:  calorie control works, damn it! Works, I say!  Faster-than-conventionally-mandated weight loss is not for everyone, but I think I have a good chance of success in long-term maintenance.  I spent a vast chunk of my life not overeating.  Long periods were spent eating a LOT, but that was when I played hard, didn’t eat garbage, and wasn’t eating constantly.  I suspect my machine may work best on a glut-starve-refuel cycle.  So long as I restore my pre-obesity eating/activity behavior after losing the weight, I don’t anticipate backsliding.

Besides, I’ll have access to the wardrobe I’ve toted through four states and haven’t been able to wear for ten years.  My zebra-stripe Bongos make me happy, my pink fringed flapper dress makes me happy, and looking good in jeans again will make me very happy.  Happy enough to stop after a handful of potato chips, save beer and wine for special occasions, and take immediate measures if the waistbands get tight.  (At least I’m not susceptible to soda and sweets.  Sugar addicts I’ve known make it sound worse than kicking Schedule I narcotics.  Perhaps all white drugs have similar properties.) (Mmm, sympathetic magic; why not try alchemy while I’m at it?)

Losing five pounds in a week is also a hell of a boost.  I’m down 14# overall and have another 16# to go before my visit home next month.  I hope I hit that target.  That would bring me to the weight I was at my last visit.  It would wreck my head if I went home, feeling psyched about my weight loss, and my family only saw me heavier than I was four years ago.  They will be shocked, appalled, and worried, no matter how firmly I explain that this is an improvement.  And they will do what they have always done:  kill the fatted calf and load my plate.  I only go home twice per decade.  Flatly refusing my mother’s steaks, ribs, bacon, and fried potatoes will not be an option.  But hearing her tell me how worried she is about my weight while she cuts me a large slice of pie will carbonate my brain. It’s sad that I’ll only be there for a few days, but my scale will thank me for it.

Family:  my family are salt-of-the-earth farmers.  I was brought up in a four-generation household of hardworking, teetotalling Norwegian stoics.  They are not comfortable expressing encouragement, despite how easy it is for them to voice expectations.  It looks harsh from the outside, but really, it’s like Yoda:  Do, or Do Not; There Is No “Try.”  They are a hardy bunch, and I owe them my hard-assed work ethic, which has arguably done more for me than cheerleading would have.  They also gifted me with outstanding cholesterol despite overconsumption of meat and bacon, butter and lard.   Tusen takk, mor og bestemor og oldemor!

Another incentive:  the SCA.  Honey hasn’t had time to play in years, and even if he did, it chafes him to play if he can’t fight.  The helm he ordered (and paid for) two years ago still hasn’t been delivered.  But incentive to attend a non-fighting event, contrary to his workaholic tendencies, is here:  at least one, and possibly two people we like are being elevated at 12th Night Coronation in January.  This event is sort of like prom, and people wear their finest clothes.  I’m completely torn.  It’s incentive to lose weight, but it’s also incentive to sew!  And anything I make had better fit!

It’s all I can do not to start drafting patterns and cutting — not that I’m any great shakes as a seamstress.  I’m trying to channel that eagerness into dieting.  Being surrounded by razor-sharp dressers swathed in pearls and brocades while you are wearing something that looks like a homemade Halloween costume is not good for morale.  Morbid obesity also does not often contribute to sartorial elegance, at least not for me.  I’m so short that I look like a poorly upholstered pouffe.  I can run in stiletto heels, but I can’t spend a day on foot-high chopines.  They will just have to deal with some late-period Persian, that’s all.  Take it and like it, people!

SCA:  one of the things I value about the SCA is that, all the other business aside, it has given me a chance to learn about the chivalric virtues.  Not gallantry, not dance-class manners, but actual virtues.  This thrills me, in very large part, because I think girls are deprived of a lot of cultural conditioning toward virtues.  We are bombarded with anti-vice propaganda, and virtue in girls is often defined, not by what they do, but by what they don’t do:  she doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t run around with boys; she’s a GOOD GIRL.  This leads some girls to duplicity (false front of “virtue” covering a multitude of sins,) double standards (girls who take liberties reserved for boys are BAD GIRLS,) or defiance (“SCREW THIS IN SPADES,” in my case, “I’ll do as I please, and suffer the consequences.”)  There aren’t many books or movies showing girls learning about, or being obliged to display, good sportsmanship, courage, prowess, grace, self-discipline, respect, or other valuable traits.  We often see them in the context of sports, war, and business, which are historically not woman-heavy tales.  I’ve always been able to identify with male characters (I was a tomboy who primped, if that makes sense) but boys never seem to try, or have to try, to identify with central female characters.  It wasn’t called Hermione Granger and the Sorcerer’s Stone, after all.

So, having been informed by popular culture, school rules, social mores, and the aforementioned (deeply religious) farmers, I was given to understand that ladies keep their virtue in their underwear, and could lose it all through sex, a physical activity I did not, as a farm girl, associate with any virtue as such.  I didn’t buy it.  My idea of being a lady was basically being a gent:  be gracious to everyone, not based on any judgement of whether he or she deserves it, but because a gracious person behaves as such to all.  Stand firm, if you are convicted, and stay courteous even in disagreement.  Be open to the facts, especially when they contradict your current position.  Treat high and low people the same.  Be patient at all times.  That said, when the time comes to act, don’t hesitate.  Help people when you can.  Don’t carry grudges.   The one thing we all have in common is that we’re going to die one day.  Keep that in mind, and don’t sweat the details.  Enjoy each day as if it were your last.

This sort of thing is very pragmatic and simple.  A system of values beyond that, and developed in part to temper the warrior class to disciplined self-control intrigued me.  It reinforced my own experiences:  good manners are lovely, the very grease of society, but they are not in any way proof of a good heart, loyalty, self-sacrifice, or other behavior that is valuable to survival on evolved terms.  Some of the most valiant people I know have crude senses of humor and lack in courtesy.  Some of the most gallant, hand-kissing, door-opening, flowery speakers I know are snarky bitches. (Full disclosure:  some of my best friends are bitches, but not the evil, backstabbing kind.  Not anymore.)  But I would rather be friends with someone who has my back in a dark alley, who would split his last sandwich with the smelliest bum, who would jump in front of a train to save an enemy or a friend or a stranger, than be friends with a mannerly scoundrel.

Good manners are important, don’t get me wrong; I think they are essential, in fact.  But I have known evil people in candy coatings, and I think it’s important to emphasize the difference between acting like a good guy and actually being a good guy.  The best is a marriage of the two:  good deeds, and good manners.  That’s something worth striving for. Only knights may display chivalry, but the virtues are something we can all learn.  And I may not have been to an event in ages, or worn garb, or done a funny dance, but the virtues apply to my every day life as well as Society events.

There is some criminal verbosity here, and I have too much yet to do to try to revise this (the faster I type, the less chance I have to do mental editing, and my typing gets faster every day) so I’ll skip the rest of my meanderings and cut straight to the end.

Dream: I fell asleep the other night, thinking about a story I was writing, and I dreamed that in this post-apocalyptic universe, a strange electromagnetic cataclysm had given people power that amplified traits they had cultivated in their previous lives.  Dancers were tied to the elements:  hula dancers had influence over water, flamenco dancers and tangoists affected fire elements, and the family of belly dancers and body dancers were like Antaeus:  so long as they were touching earth, they had all its power.

(In the way dreams work, I knew instantly that these abilities had become hereditary, just as the dancing techniques themselves were passed from parents to children.  Breeding outside one’s element had been taboo for some time but was on the verge of becoming accepted — and with it, new breeds of element-dancers.  Some children had all the power of both lines, but breeding with other crosses caused everyone’s power to fade over time, as the new world peaked and began to spiral back to destruction.)

The problem came when people realized the cataclysm itself had been caused by a Balinese dancer.  Their arm poses, sculpting the air, were always limited to the traditional list of numbered positions; any other moves were proscribed.  An old dancer, who didn’t want to die without perfecting a new pose that she had polished in secret for many years, accidentally stumbled upon the right combination of motions and pauses to dissolve the world as we knew it — not so much hitting the “game over” pose so much as “begin new game.”  It was only through the intervention of the governing body of aboriginal dancers, who influence all the elements, that the Balinese air dancers were not punished.  (The original Balinese dancer who called down annihilation and change was consumed in the process, of course.)  There was more and more.  If it sticks with me, I may try to flesh it out. But I had to write it down before it got away.

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A friend has been pestering me to check out a SyFy series he adores called Warehouse 13, and I have been dreading having to reply.  After reading Nancy Franklin’s upbeat review in the New Yorker, I had already given it a shot, and it was awful.  The good parts were weak, and the bad parts were strong.  It’s like going to a fancy restaurant and getting a rotten steak with a pretty garnish.

This series should have had a lot to charm me, reportedly having a good balance of humorous dialogue, funky characters, and unusual situations.  The theme and structure sounded like a pastiche of the X-Files, based on the last scene of Indiana Jones, but I was told the show goes far beyond its sources; it is its own thing, and a very pleasant thing at that.  Okay, sounds great!  Let’s watch!

Unfortunately, I caught what is probably the episode most likely to deter me from ever watching again.  The main character was having tender moments with herself.  If there is one thing guaranteed to bring out the worst in me, it’s the “Tender Moments With Myself” montage.

The main character stares at herself in the mirror.  She gets ready for work (embarks on a solo voyage, drinks a cup of General Foods International Coffee) while staring at the sunset (sunrise, children playing, ocean off her balcony) while looking deeply troubled (pensive, confused, constipated.)  The audience is subjected to violin swells, flashbacks, cloying song lyrics, and internal narratives in voice over.  The main character is usually facing a super tough problem, such as trying to make a relationship work even though the guy’s Not Perfect, going back to the job she signed up for even though Work Is Hard, standing up for herself even though Some People Are Just Plain Mean, and other obvious, after-school-special-type choices.

During this plodding detour from the story line, any tension built in the previous scene melts away.  No change takes place, no character is developed, no mood is established.  Nothing of substance is learned about the plot.  Most importantly, there is no potential outcome in which is she is not the same mush-minded, self-adoring lamebrain confounded by whatever non-issue is functioning as a MacGuffin for the episode. Boredom and nausea are more likely to be elicited than empathy or awareness.  It may be an attempt to showcase the looks or appeal of the actress, but it just comes across as laziness.

Or last-minute filler.  Did you lose a sponsor?  Do you need to replace a couple of commercials?  Start playing some soul-searchin’ pseudo-music.  Put your heroine in a robe, make her clutch an oversized mug to display her tapering, manicured hands, then have her cock her head and give a wistful, pursed-lip frown.  Cast your eyes heavenward, then down, and then to the side; oh, alas, alackaday!  But it’s not the Pieta; it’s not even Marmee March.  It’s just Jan Brady, furrowing her little brow.  Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

In Warehouse 13, Myka is the main character, and the albatross around the show’s neck.  The mawkish internal monologue was not an aberration.  Her every scene was drenched in the syrup of earnest looks and tragic tones.  The mild, somewhat pleasant interplay between the other characters is no match for the leaden leitmotif of Myka’s simpering reaction shots. It’s a parody of every single Very Special Episode I’ve ever seen.   It made me want to fling something at the TV, call my congressman, and write a letter to Ralph Nader about the dangers of overexposure to hazardous material.  It obviously led me to overuse modifiers.

Now, I like internal narratives, especially involving Mickey Spillane, and my favorite voiceover starts with the phrase, “Captain’s Log.”  Of course, they can’t all be that good.  But I get the strong feeling this show’s bible requires Myka to display at least three variations of Tragic Bravery per episode.  And that is too much castor oil in one sitting.

(a review of “Review: Final ‘Harry Potter’ goes out with a bang”, By Tom Charity, CNN, July 15, 2011 11:36 a.m. EDT)

Dear Mr. Charity:

While I agree that the character acting in the Harry Potter series has been terrific, we part ways when you describe what those characters are.

Minerva McGonagall is not “dotty.”  To be dotty is to be mentally unbalanced, and she is razor-sharp at all times.

Sirius Black may be “stalwart”, in some ways, but it’s hardly his dominant trait, and not the way to characterize him.  He is impetuous, emotional, sarcastic, dashing, loyal, and many other things, but “stalwart”?  No.  “Stalwart” means “physically strong”, and Sirius was not that at all.  To be stalwart of character usually means that you are unimaginatively loyal, and unswervingly devoted to the cause.  Hagrid is the textbook example of “stalwart” in both senses.  But Sirius Black is a reckless, troubled man of action, living on borrowed time.  The impermance of his bright flame is not compatible with the steadfast, rock-like “stalwart.”

Describing Bellatrix Lestrange as “banshee-like” is also inappropriate.  A mournful keening is very different from a shrieking attack.  Were you thinking of a maenad instead of a banshee?  Maenads were violently insane women, groupie-like followers of Dionysus, who went into ecstatic frenzies of destruction.  Laughing while ripping animals to death seems more like Bellatrix Lestrange than wailing in grief at someone’s death, as banshees do.

We disagree in other areas as well.  You said “Yates doesn’t bombard us with a blitz of fast cuts, his style is classical and considered.”  And yet the battle scenes, among others, are shot so close in that we have no idea who is doing what to whom.  Some of Neville’s finer moments were dampened, since we never saw him facing down the enemy – only the camera.  Since Neville’s key transformation was developing courage, it’s a material failure not to show him face to face with his foes, mano a mano.

Likewise, the CGI integration was not always done with “fluency and finesse”; some of it was extremely choppy. Anything that noticeable on the big screen will be more obvious at home; perhaps you’ll notice it then.  You also said the movie’s “tempo is exactly right,” and again, I disagree.  After they left Shell Cottage, the sequences were so compressed that no tension developed, and the dialogue was so rushed that no emotional investment was cultivated.  Later, during the battle scenes, unnecessary comic relief was added to break the tension that had never been developed.  What a waste that was, along the lines of The Fellowship of the Ring’s Hobbiton exposition.  Given that important scenes were deleted or materially compressed to make room for unnecessary claptrap, my last hope is for an extended Director’s Cut to restore the missing substance.

There are other differences in our perceptions of this movie, but I’ll spare you those.  Where I won’t spare you is your writing.  CNN may no longer employ copy editors, but did you never have an English teacher?  Overuse of adjectives and adverbs muddied your review.  If modifiers don’t alter the sense of what they support, in a meaningful or substantial way, eliminate them.  If your phrasing doesn’t sound right without them, replace the modified word with something stronger.  It’s better to read one strong word than two weak ones.

Here is an incomplete list of the idioms and redundancies you employed in this piece.  Quoting your review:

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concluding episode, phenomenally successful, blockbuster filmmaking, grand spectacle, typically British, thoroughly exceeded, documentary record, great strength, vivid rendering, vast gallery, personal favorites, dutifully shepherded, striking composure, exactly right, eternal fight, raging conflagration, palpable sense, freely expressive, richly deserves

>>

Mr. Charity, redundant adjectives weaken your work, as do uncolorful idioms.  Please look up the words “pleonasm” and “tautology”, and linger over William Strunk Jr.’s comments in The Elements of Style:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.