Friday, August 29, 2008

Some brain required...

... and I was running low on brains yesterday. It should have been simple enough to assemble the new chair and ottoman I bought at Ikea yesterday. (It's purty, ain't it? And comfy.) Heck, there were only four steps. Only six pieces. Only 10 screws. But somehow it didn't turn out that way. I ended up muttering and cursing to myself, ready to strangle the cat if she jumped in the box one more time.

Now, in my defense, it had been a long day. I took Boy to school to pick up his schedule. This required turning in his emergency info, getting his school ID photo taken, paying a deposit for his books, getting his schedule, turning in his internet permission form, paying for his yearbook, paying for school lunch, and picking up his books. (All 15 pounds of them. And notice how much "paying" was involved?) Since he missed orientation, we also walked around the school: finding his locker and making sure the lock worked, locating all his classes, timing how long it took to get from one building to another because he has classes in two buildings. Then we did some school supply shopping, took in a funny movie (thank goodness), grabbed lunch, picked out the chair at IKEA, got his free ice cream, and finally made it home around 3:30.

Not so bad, right? But then I started assembling the ottoman and discovered that the finish I had picked out didn't match the table I already had. I could live with it (eww), or I could go back and exchange the chairs ... and I might as well get it over. So I carefully disassembled the ottoman, tried five times before getting it to fit back in the box, taped it back up, and headed back to Ikea. I sat in the return line for 15 minutes, then got the chair with the right finish. I headed home, realized I needed food for dinner, so I stopped to go shopping. Then I realized I forgot to pick up the dry cleaning, but I had to go home to get the receipt.

I get home, put away the groceries, and by now it's after five. There was still half an hour before I had to run out for another errand, so I tried to start assembling the new chair, and couldn't figure out step one. There are two short screws, two washers, and two thingees I can't name that hold screws. But the picture doesn't show the washers in the first step, and I don't see where they go in steps 1-4, and all the other screws are in groups of four. What the ??? I look at helpful instructions, which show this:

Of course, they don't show any phone numbers for me to call. I don't feel like searching for the number, so I stomp around and grumble, stare at the instructions again, and generally feel like this:
Finally, I did what the picture said, and discovered the two extraneous washers actually appeared in step four, in such small pictures I didn't see them before. I got the chair assembled, the dry cleaning fetched, the errands run, and the dinner made. Then I collapsed in my new chair.

But I didn't get the blog updated. Or the latest chapter. I get enough frustration out of writing and the search for publishing that I didn't need any more for that day. Today will be better; a couple hours cuddling kittens at the Humane Society and all the frustration is gone, leaving me ready to write.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Walden: The Official Haiku Review

I must make a confession: I couldn't finish Thoreau's Walden. I know it epitomizes the American Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century, with its emphasis on self-reliance and individual spirituality. I know it's a classic, important work that influenced not only many writers, but future environmentalists. I know I really should finish this book; I chose it as my last selection for my summer Remedial Lit Project (pre-WWI American) because I looked at a list of writers I'd never read and Thoreau was the most glaring omission.

I also know that if I had a time machine and could meet Thoreau, I would likely find him an insufferable git. So here is my Official Haiku Review of the first third of Thoreau's Walden:

Do you own your stuff,
Or does it own you? You fool!
Go away. You suck.

I can't say I disagree with Thoreau's premises about consumerism, self-reliance, and the value of nature. (If he thought mid-19th century America was shallow and obsessed with possessions, I can only imagine how appalling he would find modern culture.) He has some valuable observations about what's really important in life, and some really poetic descriptions of his little shack in the woods by Walden Pond. Unfortunately, the overall tone of the work can only be described as smug. Now, I managed to plod through dozens of chapters on whales in Moby Dick, and wade through intelligible dialogue in The Pioneers, and I was willing to do so for the sake of a story. It wasn't always a great story, but I wanted to know how things would turn out.

However, I'm not going to sit still and be harangued at by a misanthropic hermit just for some pretty descriptions of nature. I'd rather sit out in a hammock and enjoy it firsthand, preferably while reading something that's meaningful and entertaining. So I'm taking my one pass for the summer and stopping early. I'm also stopping my Remedial Lit Project until next summer, when I will try to get to many of those foreign authors I never read. Don't despair, however; the Haiku Review will return next month as I begin my Remedial Film Classics Project.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Oh say, why can't I N-B-See?

Luckily for my sleep habits and the fast-approaching school year, the Olympics are over. No more staying up til midnight waiting for gymnastics scores or rain-delayed beach volleyball finals. All the spectacle and pageantry are over, and it was a great two weeks of sport. You'd have to be a total grumpus not to be thrilled by Michael Phelps's eight golds and Usain Bolt's sprinting records, or to be moved by the stories of the South African amputee who competed in the open-water swim, or the 33-year-old gymnast who moved from Uzbekistan to Germany to get cancer treatment for her son, and won a medal against competition half her age. The Olympics are full of great stories like these.


I am still quite displeased with much of NBC-Universal's coverage of the games. I understand that gymnastics, swimming, and track score high ratings, and that's why they get the main focus of the prime-time coverage. And this year satellite users actually got a button that took them to a menu where they could choose from several channels that had coverage (something only eight years behind, and vastly inferior to, technology that the BBC used in Sydney). And yet, with all those channels, I didn't see a single taekwondo match on the air. And this, after the Today show showed profiles of the Lopez family, who are the first three siblings to all medal at the same Olympic games.

Apparently, NBC has time to show four replays of every dive in preliminary competition, and a dozen replays of Bolt or Phelps, but not even one two-minute round of a TKD medal match? They weren't even pretending this year to show most events live, so they couldn't edit the competition to give us a little more breadth of coverage? On Saturday afternoon, they figured people would rather watch table tennis, rhythmic gymnastics*, and synchronized swimming** for three hours than see a single, 6-minute TKD match. Why? It wasn't because Americans were challenging for medals in those events, because they weren't. What world are the NBC producers living in? Certainly not the one where mixed martial arts shows draw high ratings and pay-per-view audiences, or the one where 1600 competitors of all ages (and both sexes) competed at a national TKD tournament not two months ago. Sure, TKD bouts on an Olympic level can be a bit slow, because the competitors are so good, but it can't be any worse than the Olympic boxing match I saw last week where the competitors grabbed and held and threw each other to the ground instead of actually throwing punches.

NBC seems totally oblivious to this, as shown in their coverage of the athletes during the Closing Ceremonies. They showed the Lopez family again, saying they medalled, but I had no idea what medals they actually earned, since NBC didn't show them. Then they focused on Bryan Clay, the American gold medalist in the decathlon, traditionally called the "the world's greatest athlete." The announcer said he seemed to be overshadowed in these games by athletes like Phelps and Bolt, and I shouted "DUH!" at the televison, for NBC blew off the first day of decathlon competition, moving it from primetime to late night, and then devoted about two minutes to each of Clay's second-day events before showing the entirety of the last event, the 1500 meter run. But that night they showed most of the marathon live, because there's nothing as exciting as watching guys run through streets for two hours. (Hey, it was LIVE!)

So I guess I'm going to have to wait another four years to see world-class TKD on the television***. Maybe by London 2012 I can get digitally broadcast CBC, or BBC America will offer their own coverage. Or maybe NBC will give us real choice through satellite coverage. You never know, it could happen.

* I'm sure the ladies of rhythmic gymnastics work hard, but to me their "sport" looks like something better suited to the circus, not the Olympics. There's virtually no tumbling, so it's more like dance than gymnastics. (Don't get me started on the idea going around about adding Ballroom Dancing as an Olympic event.)
** And just to be totally inconsistent, I hate it when people make fun of synchro. I actually did this for a year in junior high, and it's very tough.
*** And also "Team Handball." I want to see this because I have no idea how it works. I'm envisioning a dozen guys on a squash-sized handball court. Do they tag team? Take turns hitting the ball? My mind boggles.