Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fitness File: Fencing

When I lived in Pasadena, my friend Randy was the fencing coach at Caltech. I had watched him and his wife compete at tournaments and had met many of their fencing friends at their house. It looked like lots of fun and they all encouraged me to give it a try, so I finally did. I feel really lucky to have had Randy teach me my first lessons. He was extremely positive and patient, I got a very solid grounding in the basics, . . . and he worked my butt off!

At the end of 2005, when I moved to the Ventura County area, I told myself I'd get back to Pasadena to take more lessons from Randy and fence with my Pasadena friends, but the demands of my new job and the hour distance ended up being bigger deterrents than I'd anticipated. And then Randy and his family moved out of state. :( It was quite a while until I felt I had the time and energy to bring fencing back into my life, but I finally got around to it last year and found a great group of people fencing at the Conejo Club at the Conejo Community Center in Thousand Oaks. I've been fencing there on Saturdays off and on ever since. I'd been pretty busy over the summer and didn't have many opportunities to go, but, earlier this month, I did finally pick up where I left off and I hope to keep it up.

In fencing, there are three different weapons - foil, sabre, and epee (see here to the right) - and the weapon you use dictates what is considered target area on your opponent (see above). You'll notice that the bell that covers the hand is bigger on an epee than it is on a foil. That is because the arm is part of the target area when you fence epee and you need more protection from attacks on that arm. Similarly, the bell on a sabre extends around the hand because the hand is actually considered a valid target when you fence sabre. (Note: the shaded areas on the illustration I copied and pasted here are slightly off because the hand is valid target area for sabre.) . . . The goofy get-up is the same regardless of what weapon you fence though.

Some argue that the smaller target area is more challenging. Others argue the larger target area is more challenging. I think that's nonsense. Each just demands a different style of fencing, a different strategy. I fence foil because that's what I learned and because most people fence foil and it makes it easier to find people with whom to fence. It's lots of fun and a great workout. (The protective gear is hot and you do a lot of lunging.)

To the left here is what the Conejo Fencing Club's badge looks like. As some of you may know, conejo is Spanish for rabbit, which is why we have that darting rabbit on there.

What? You don't think a bunny rabbit will intimidate our opponents?? I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the ferocity of the hare, my friend . . .

Friday, September 26, 2008

New Movie Alert: Religulous

On this blog, I've done some posting (and had some great conversations) about made-up words, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to post about a new movie coming out in November from Borat director Larry Charles, the title of which blends the two words "religious" and "ridiculous" - Religulous. In it, "Bill Mahr takes on the current state of world religion."

Woo, Nelly.
Well, at least Michael Moore can thank Mahr for drawing some of the slings and arrows of the negative and vocal conservative crowd away from him for a change.

Personally, I don't see anything wrong with scrutinizing the precepts and practices of religion (because I don't see the problem with scrutinizing anything; nothing's beyond rational inquiry in my book). I know quite a few people who will mind though - especially given the kind of scrutinizing this movie is advertising it does. You know, . . . the [*gasp*] humorous kind. These are the same people who can't stand Michael Moore and Jon Stewart and are completely confused by Steven Colbert. (Apparently sin lurks behind every double entendre and corny pun and the devil himself feeds on satire.)

I'm not saying the movie is good. For crying out loud (You like that? I didn't even blaspheme.), I haven't even seen it yet, and I'm not even especially fond of Mahr. I'm just saying, we've lived through the release of The Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion of the Christ. Surely we can do without the boycotting this time, right? Let's let this thing have it's 15 minutes and get on with life. See it if you wish. Skip it if you wish. Let's just try not to get our knickers all in sailors' knots over it, okay?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Poetry Fix

I was bummed that I couldn't make it to the weekly Wednesday night poetry reading at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge when I was back in the Boston area last month. It used to be one of my favorite things to do. When I lived back there, I completely took it for granted and didn't go nearly as often as I should have. Now that I live in the sticks (a.k.a. Moorpark, CA) and my open-mike poetry venue options (or live poetry venue options period) are limited, I'm kicking myself in the @$$ for not having taken better advantage of Cantab (i.e., a nice mid-week, after-work, muse-nourishing oasis) being just a short train ride away.

The most satisfying poetry experiences I've had since I've moved to the west coast have consisted of checking out the poetry stage at the L.A. Times Festival of Books for an hour or two once a year. I've encountered some great but perhaps little-known poets there, like Joshua Clover and Robin Becker, and picked up some of there work, but once a year just isn't enough.

I love reading a good poem in silence to myself, alone, curled up on the couch. And I love having my husband read me love poems as I fall asleep (yes, reason 1,00,001 why I love him). But I really enjoy hearing a poet read their own work best of all. There's just nothing like hearing the lines read by the person who wrote them - inflections, pauses, humorous tones, etc. - all employed exactly as they were meant to be. And there's something electric about the atmosphere when you know you're in the presence of the brilliant mind who created those lines.

In the absence of good, regular poetry readings to attend, I've been settling for listening to recorded versions of poems through poets.org's Poetcasts (sponsored by the Academy of American Poets). They also have a calendar of events that includes a breakdown by state, . . . but, again, there isn't usually much going on in the boondocks - and certainly not anything local going on on any kind of regular basis.

To make up for not getting to hear more live poetry, I pacify myself by buying more books of poetry in one trip to the bookstore than I can reasonably expect to read before my next trip to the bookstore, . . . during which I will, of course, buy another equally large stack of books . . . and so the cycle goes. I appear to be complaining . . . but I live for it. I obtained my most recent stack on that same trip back east I mentioned earlier. (The stack was modest this time though . . . if only because I had to consider what would fit in my luggage for the return flight.) While at a great little indie called Gibson's Bookstore in Concord, NH, I picked out a couple of books by local poets Charles Simic (The World Doesn't End) and Donald Hall (The Painted Bed). They didn't have any books by new poet laureate Kay Ryan, so I was really hoping the other indie bookstore we hit in Portland, ME (Longfellow Books), would have one. But they didn't. That depressed me a little. Boo.

I guess I'm not all that surprised about the poor selection of poetry books at the bookstores we hit in New England. The poetry section at most bookstores is typically sorely disappointing. In fact, never mind bookstores, some libraries' poetry offerings are embarrassing slim. Case in point - my local library. I went there a few weeks ago to pick up a library card. After being issued my little piece of plastic, I took a stroll to find the poetry section, . . . and I couldn't find it . . . at all . . . and it's a small library. I had to ask at the front desk (as if I were a knuckle-dragger who'd never heard of the Dewey Decimal System). The woman at the front desk kindly directed me to a shelf in the back. Yes, a (un) shelf . . . and it wasn't even full, and not all of what was on that half-full shelf was technically poetry, and, of the books that were technically poetry, none was what I would call contemporary poetry. Needless to say, I was quickly inspired to join the Moorpark Friends of the Library so I might try to help rectify that situation. I'm not even sure I'll be living in Moorpark come this time next year, so I'm not sure how much I might realistically expect to change. But trying's better than doing nothing. So, here's hoping I can breathe some life into that anorexic poetry shelf!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Movement & Confinement

Upon seeing someone recklessly speeding on the highway, my parents would always say, "There goes someone in a hurry to get to their funeral." Now, when I see the same, that phrase inevitably pops into my mind - and sometimes out of my mouth. (We do become our parents, don't we? [Please say no, please say no, please say no.]) For instance, a couple of weekends ago, I was driving down to San Diego for a wedding when, all of a sudden, I noticed a hearse speeding by me on the left. I had to chuckle. At no other time in my life has that phrase been more appropriate.

That odd occurrence got me to thinking of the recent trip I took to LACMA (the one I posted about last month). One of the installations that really affected me was one called "Rigor Motors" (a play on the word rigormortis), by Ruben Ochoa and Marco Rios, which was part of the Latin American Modernism exhibit. The artwork consisted of a black and a white coffin, each constructed to hold a body in the seated position. The authors conflate the concept of the coffin with a custom car, the work inspired by the feeling that the car is in more control of the person, rather than the other way around. The artists realized that they more often sit in a driving position than they do in a prone, sleeping position and asked themselves, "What if I died frozen in the driving position? What would the coffin look like?'"

"Rigor Motors" is an arresting enough art installation on its own, but it particularly struck me because it reminded me of a dream I used to have. When I was in college, I had a disturbing, recurring dream where I was driving my boyfriend at the time's white Camaro. (No, the disturbing part of the dream wasn't that I was driving a Camaro. That was a disturbing part of my waking life, . . . but that's a story for another day.) In the dream, I would be going pretty fast and the back of the bucket seat wouldn't stay up and support me as I went faster and faster and faster. Then, I would discover that the brakes were positioned just barely out of reach. As I stretched my foot further to reach the pedal, I would end up in a reclining position, my line of vision dipping below the dash board. When I finally made contact with the pedal, I would realize that the brakes didn't work. The dream would always end the same way - I would crash the car . . . which would instantly transform into a white coffin. I would always wake with a start, in a cold sweat, and not be able to fall back to sleep. (My subconscious telling me things about my relationsthip with my boyfriend at the time? Oh, of course. Duh. But, again - that's a story for another day.)

The drive to San Diego also reminded me of something else I'd seen at that exhibit - an installation called "Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement," by Julio Cesar Morales. In it, the artist "illustrates some of the ways in which undocumented immigrants have attempted entry through border crossings into the U.S. by hiding inside vehicles or freight." (To the left here, you see two such illustrations.) In the same room, accompanying 6-8 such illustrations, a looping video by Ruben Ochoa employed "special effects, applying large-scale digitally printed photographs of highway landscaping onto freeway walls, to make the walls appear to disappear." The video was meant to "question the notion of physical or perceptual boundaries and whether they can - or should - be maintained."

I remember the first time I drove to San Diego and was surprised to see the signs on the highway alerting drivers to be careful because groups of immigrants fleeing Mexico often try to run across the busy highway (see sign here to the right). As I traveled the same road that these immigrants do, I couldn't help but be struck by the disparity of our circumstances - me: traveling in comfort, for pleasure, without fear; them: traveling under harsh conditions, for survival, afraid at every turn they might be caught; me, having moved to California from as far away as the east coast, free to do so without restriction; and, them, unable to (legally) move a short distance north to a land that, back in the day, was theirs first. Kind of sobering thoughts to consider right before a wedding, . . . but certainly something worth considering as we quickly approach the November presidential election. Do you know where your candidate stands on the issue of immigration (Obama, McCain, Nader)?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Drink It Fast, Drink It Slow, Lick Your Lips, Touch the Toe"

You're all going to think I'm obsessed with feet after this post. First, there was the post about fish-aided pedicures. Then, there was the one about my own flat feet. And now, this.

If the thought of pickled pigs' feet makes you squeamish, this will destroy your appetite for days to come . . . Did you hear this two weeks ago on NPR? In Dawson City, in the Yukon territory of Canada, in a hotel bar in their downtown, they serve a drink called the Sourtoe Cocktail. The ingredients? Well, it used to be champagne, but now, apparently, it can be any alcohol so long as the main ingredient isn't missing - a dehydrated human toe. To become a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club, you needn't consume the toe, but it must touch your lips.

And to think I threw my entire drink down the drain the other day just because I saw a fly swimming in it . . .

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pet Peeves: Door-to-Door Intolerance

You may remember my post about the "Mission Field" from last month. Well, what I'm about to tell you fits right in there with that same kind of intrusive, black-and-white, intolerant thinking and behavior I described in that post that totally makes me batshit crazy.

The other night, the same night I was all in a dither because of the train accident, we did actually get a knock at our door. I was busy in the other room, so Matt answered - but I heard pretty much the whole conversation. People who introduced themselves as neighbors "from a few streets over" (Mr. and Mrs. Somethingorother) were canvassing the neighborhood to get support for California Proposition 8. Once Matt figured out what they were talking about, he politely, but abruptly, stopped them and told them that he's not in favor of the proposition. The husband tried to continue: "Oh, no, see we're not saying they're not entitled to the rights that they would receive through a civil union, we're just saying that marriage should be defined as between a - ." Again, Matt politely, but abruptly, stopped him. But Mr. Somethingorother wasn't done, "Well, . . . is your wife home?" Matt replied, "She is, but we both feel the same way about this issue." OH, how we wished he'd instead said something like, "I'm sorry, but my husband can't come to the door right now." (Damned l'esprit de l'escalier.)

I've always disliked when people hang flags outside their houses - probably because the ones that they typically choose to hang are those cutesy ones, you know, the ones for every consumer-ized holiday known to mankind - but, now, I'm seriously considering buying us a large Human Rights Campaign (HRC) flag.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Love Words: Parlance

Since I've used this word as the root for my made-up blog title, I thought I should probably offer its formal definition and a little explanation as to how I came to name my blog. (Yes, I suppose you could say this ILW post is pretty overdue.)


Pronunciation: \pär'ləns\

Function: noun

Etymology: Anglo-French, from parler ("to speak")

Date: 1579

Definition: 1. a way or manner of speaking that is natural to native speakers of the language; vernacular; idiom: legal parlance.
2. speech, esp. a formal discussion or debate.
3. mutual discourse; conference

How I Chose My Blog Title: I was interested in blogs because of the interactive writing atmosphere they create, as opposed to what you encounter on static, article-posting sites (ergo, the "mutal discourse/conference" definition of parlance came to mind). I was thinking of that and, at the same time, considering some self-identifying words - among them, freelancer and fencer. Sooo, naturally, 2 and 2 came together pretty quickly (i.e., "meaningful root" + "common suffix" = "just right") to form the equation: parlance + er = Parlancer. Voila! Short and sweet and (hopefully) memorable enough. And, because it's a made-up word, the likelihood of there being another "parlancer" out there was pretty low. At least, I hoped. Luckily, after a quick online search, I found I was right, so I stuck my flag in the word and claimed me some blogger.com blogging real estate with it. And the rest is history . . . or, rather, remains to to be seen . . .

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fitness File: Cycling

When I was 4, my cousin taught me how to ride a bike. There I am to the left here, in all my dorky glory. Don't ask me what I'm holding in my hand. I don't know. Probably my life-time membership card to the "Kids Who Wear Hot Dog on a Stick-Inspired Clothes and Enormous Stickers on Their Foreheads Club." (That sticker had probably been there all day from kindergarten. But, hey, at least it helps me date the photo - The jack-o-lantern means it must have been October.) And that snazzy ride? A bike my grandfather salvaged from the dump. The bike chain didn't always stay on its track, so sometimes I'd be pedaling to nowhere like a Looney Toons character and fall right over. And kids today need training wheels. Pshaw!

When I was 8, my grandfather bought me a brand-new, pretty light-blue bike with a seahorse on it . . . and then I won one just a week or two later through a city-wide cartoon contest on the theme of energy conservation sponsored by the local newspaper. A child from each grade won a bike. There I am with my prize to the right. It didn't have gears (I just missed the age cut-off for the 10-speeds), but it had a sweet, sparkly red banana seat.

All these years later, and I've still never owned a bike with gears. Until now. One of our friends got us a bike as a wedding present 3 months ago, so we went ahead and purchased the companion bike that goes with it - a Schwinn Southport Women's 7-Speed Cruiser - so we can ride together. It's been a busy summer, so Matt hasn't had much time to put them together and fine-tune the gears and brakes until this weekend. (I would have done it myself, but I'm not that mechanically inclined. And that's not me buying into some self-defeating stereotype about women; I'm just honestly not that mechanically inclined.) So, today was the first day the bikes were close enough to being completely assembled that I could take mine out for a test spin.

After doing some running these past couple of months, you'd think I'd be better prepared to ride a bike. Yes. You'd t
hink. The reality, however, was that after a little over a mile and half of riding, I had some difficulty walking when I got off and my quads were scer-EAMING. I was immediately reminded of the time in high school when members of the girls' and boys' cross-country track teams were paired off to participate in a 10-mile run-and-bike race - one boy, one girl, one bike. There I was, still a big dork and turtle-paced to boot, paired off with a popular senior guy who was a decent runner. Neither of us had our own bike, so we were given some orphan bike with wonky gears to use. The senior thought he was being chivalrous by saying I could ride the bike pretty much the whole time while he ran, but the bike was so bad, I actually had a hard time keeping up with him! And, when I got off, my quads were so overworked, I could hardly run. The result? Let's just say my partner was pretty bummed we didn't win. (Kind of hard to do when your teammate is yakking on the side of the road somewhere around mile 6 . . . .)

Anyway, I'm hoping to erase that me
mory by replacing it with some more positive biking experiences. And I'm hoping it will be an activity Matt and I can enjoy doing together. He has a bad biking memory he needs to rid himself of too - he took a mean header on his bike in grad school, broke his helmet, and gave himself a concussion. He hasn't been back on a bike since. To encourage him, I bought him some biking accessories for his birthday, including some biking-appropriate apparel, a water bottle and water bottle rack, and a Schwinn 17-Function Bike Computer that tracks distance, time, speed, and fat and calories burned.

I plan on keeping up with the running, but I think biking is going to be a nice alternative exercise for me, especially given my flat feet. And I'm also hoping, while I'm out and about on my bike, I might run into Moorpark's cycling poet, J.R. Rolly. While driving to or from the supermarket or the post office, I've often seen the 82-year-old (who donated his car to the Salvation Army) wearing his signature red blazer even on the hottest days, plugging along on his bike, teetering and weaving as he makes his way up the hill near my house. I'd love to have a conversation with that crazy old dude.

Friday, September 12, 2008


In the L.A. area today, a freight train collided with a commuter train - the commuter train my husband often takes to and from work. Last night, he talked about taking it today. When it came time to go to work this morning, though, he decided to drive instead because he wanted to run an errand at lunch.

It's difficult to feel happy when I know other spouses and loved ones won't get the same relieving news today (at the time of this post, there are an estimated 70 injured and 10-15 dead). Instead of a reassuring call from their spouse, they may be be getting a phone call or a knock on the door from the authorities with bad news.

But I am happy. Deliriously happy. And I'd rather live with the guilt of being happy while others are grieving than live with the alternative outcome.

He just returned home a little while ago, greeted by a longer, tighter hug and more fervent kisses from me than usual. He's home and safe, and our take-out from the Thai restaurant down the street is on its way, just like any other normal, boring Friday night. And, later, when his snoring wakes me up in the middle of the night, as it does every night, instead of grumbling to myself and shaking him a little to get him to stop, I'm going to scoot closer and spoon him and nestle my head in his back, between his shoulders, and remember how lucky I am.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

New Movie Alert: Howl

Back when I was a dewy-faced college girl of 21, I had the rare opportunity of seeing Allen Ginsberg read his poetry at UMass Dartmouth (for just $5!!). He was a sick man then (I don't know if he'd been diagnosed with liver cancer yet, but it would have appeared that he was certainly suffering from it), but he still managed to stay on stage for a long time and give an amazing performance. To accompany a few of the pieces, he played some sort of beautifully lacquered, bellows-driven musical instrument (I hesitate to use the generic word 'squeezebox,' but it was definitely neither an accordion nor a concertina). I didn't appreciate this then, but, looking back now, I see how its use emphasized the "breath-length" form he employed in some of his poetry. Genius.

I bring up this old poetry reading because I just found out yesterday that Pineapple Express actor James Franco will play Allen Ginsberg in a biopic about the 1957 obscenity trial related to the publication of Ginsberg's famous poem Howl. I read that and thought . . . "Hmm."

I know portraying a real-life figure involves much more than looking the part, but I'm still having quite a bit of difficulty envisioning GQ-pretty Franco as Ginsberg.

When I think of a present-day actor who might work well as a Ginsberg double, I think of the likes of comedian David Cross of Arrested Development. Anyone else with me on this one?

I know, I know. I need to give the kid a chance. After all, why wouldn't Franco be good for the part? He's already made one stoner movie - and what was Ginsberg if not a stoner? . . . Okay, that last remark might be a little too glib. On a more serious note, Franco is currently enrolled in creative writing courses at UCLA, so perhaps he's also secretly a poetry buff. If my movie-viewing experience has taught me anything, it is that sometimes actors can pleasantly surprise you. For instance, . . .

When I initially heard that Cate Blanchett would be playing Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, I scoffed,"Ha! A casting director somewhere is about to lose his/her job." . . . But, then, I saw the movie and was blown away by Blanchett's portrayal. She even got Hepburns' very unique voice cadence just right. I was impressed. Of course, this all begs the question - "But does Franco have the acting chops to pull off a 'Blanchett'?" That, my friends, remains to be seen, . . . but I'm looking forward to finding out. The movie should be out sometime in 2009. Keep an eye out for it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Fitness File: Allies & Saboteurs

In a previous post, I talked about motivation and willpower as fluctuating internal forces that we need to watch out for when trying to stay true to a fitness regimen. What I didn't delve into were the external forces . . . and some of them are so close to home, they might as well be internal! Our friends, family, and significant others play large roles in our lives. Even the most independent thinkers amongst us, those of us who think we have wills of iron, are influenced by them. Sometimes that's a good thing . . . and, other times? Not so much. For instance, . . . as I've made efforts to get back into shape, my husband has been very supportive, trying to stock our refrigerator with healthy options for meals and snacks, cooking healthier dinners, toiling away in the back yard trying to put together the bikes we purchased, and even going for a run now and then himself. Most days, he shows great solidarity and is my best ally. However, some days, he fights me over things that seem like no-brainers to me, like portions. For instance- yes, an Italian red sauce is a healthy choice . . . but not when you have it on 1/2 pound of pasta, topped with a blizzard of grated Parmesan cheese, and accompanied by 1/2 a loaf of buttery garlic bread.

And I can't claim to be faultless in the diet-and-fitness support department. We each bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table (sorry, pun intended). Matt's portions may be out of proportion, but I'm a sucker when it comes to using "bad" foods as rewards or treats. For instance, Matt really loves Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby but can never find it in our local grocery stores. I know we're trying to eat healthier, but when I saw it in the store the other day, I "couldn't help" but buy a pint, weakly justifying it by equating the purchase with showing my husband some TLC. So, yes, I've become "the pot calling the kettle black." I mean, if buying your husband a pint of Chubby Hubby isn't being a diet saboteur, I don't know what is. One might also ask what I was doing browsing in the ice cream section in the first place when I "stumbled" upon it . . . .