Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fall "Comfort Viewing"

I'm re-watching Dorothy Sayers Gaudy Night and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Both are comfortable favorites. Both are about schools for females and I believe the portrait of the Founder from Miss Jean Brodie was re-used in Gaudy Night.

One takes place in 1932 and another in about 1937 and I admit I love the costumes as much as the drama (The skirts are shorter in Miss Jean Brodie--set in 1932 and released in 1969.)

I think I find them to be comfort viewing because they are stories where most of the characters are well dressed and poised women*. In spite of this they would neither of them be shelved in the "Romantic Comedy" section of the video store (if we still had such institutions.) Romance is an ingredient in both stories, but it is not the most important one.

My love for Gaudy Night is straight forward (I wrote a blog post about the book in 2009) and while the made for TV movie doesn't have all the nuances of the book it hits on many of the same notes--most heavily the place of women in society and Harriet Vane's complicated relationship with Lord Peter Wimsey.

I'm not quite sure why I love Miss Jean Brodie. My mother brought it home from the library once when I was a kid. My mom was a teacher, and we watched a lot of films with teachers as protagonists when I was a kid, so this merged a bit with Stand and Deliver and the other films about educationists.

Last year I ordered it from Netflix and re-watched it for the first time in 20 years. I was at first appalled. Miss Brodie the educationist is not only breaking all sorts of rules for how a teacher aught to behave (having favorite students, involving them in her personal life, preaching politics in the classroom) but she's preaching fascism to her students--and my mom exposed us to this as children? I brought this up to my mom and she replied "Fascists like Miss Brody are charming but...... Charming is not enough!" and "because it's a good movie." Yes it is--I'm watching it again. But I find that I dislike the protagonists--both Miss Brodie and Sandy and still sympathize with them.

Part of my fascination with the movie is due to the way the children in it appear to be 12 in one scene and 17 in another. Most of it is due to the mass of contradictions that is Miss Jean Brodie. I can see why she insists on being exceptional--even to the point of antagonizing the head mistress of her school. I cannot see why she repudiates Mr. Lloyd--the artist with whom she's clearly in love--for Mr. Lauther. She doesn't wish to get married, so why not have an affaire with the man she loves (who's *ahem* already married)instead of avoiding him, having an affaire with a man who is looking to get married and trying to place her pupil in his bed by proxy?

It makes no sense at all. Perhaps that's why I find it attractive.

*unlike myself

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Harry Potter and the Anti-Potterists

One of my geek-friends recently said that he wanted nothing to do with “that Harry Potter shit.” I am often surprised by the vehement hatred of fellow sci fi/fantasy geeks to Harry Potter. I assume some of it is because Harry Potter is so mainstream—but the Lord of The Rings Movies made Tolkein mainstream and almost none of my Tolkein-loving friends derided them. They may complain that Tom Bombadil is missing, along with all of the poetry, but they’ll still sit down to watch the movies.

I assume some of what drives this hatred is that Harry Potter remains the exception—not the rule. Yes, dyslexic kids sat down and read 500 page books—but this didn’t lead those kids to pick up The Chronicles of Narnia or The Hobbit or The Dark is Rising or any other books at all (until Twilight came out). You don’t have to work very hard to appreciate Harry Potter. This was initially part of the joy of the world of Hogwarts and Quiddich—at least for me. It is possible to write books that are appropriate for children and still interesting to adults. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is one such book. The Hobbit is another.

Why does liking one preclude liking the other? I think this might partly be a case of “It’s not the band—it’s the fans I hate.” During the Harry Potter madness I found that people at work would come to talk to me about Harry Potter books the same way they would come to talk to me about home PCs—because I was the person in the office that did that sort of thing (reading, buying/repairing PCs).

While I’m flattered that my colleagues think that I’m the go-to person in the office for matters literary, I still find it a bit sad. I know that not everyone reads books for entertainment the way I do, and I know that plenty of smart people don’t read for fun. But still.

When I think about the Potter books, I don’t just think about the narrative. There are many happy parts to the story of JK Rowling’s novels in the real world—and some sad ones (at least from my point of view.)

Harry Potter was published by Scholastic Books in the US. If you’re my age you may remember your grade school teacher sending you home with an multi-colored sales pamphlet for Scholastic books. You and your parents would choose which (if any) books you wanted to order and you would come back to school with a check and an order form (usually filled out by a parent.) Several weeks later, you’d come back from lunch to find several stacks of books in the classroom and the teacher would call out the names of all the kids that had placed orders and give them their stacks of books.

I am happy that Scholastic got to publish the money-bomb that was/is Harry Potter. I am happy that that there were kids who chewed through the lengthy tomes that were the last four volumes of Harry Potter.

I am less happy about the emergence of books as commodities that you can get at Walmart or BJ’s (or Amazon) instead of actual bookstores. Harry Potter didn’t start this fire, but I think he added a lot of fuel to it. Not his fault—not JK Rowling’s either.

Harry Potter grew up along with his original audience. The character ages through out the series. I personally, am impressed by this and I wonder how parents or educators of the future will meet this challenge—do they dole out the books at the rate of one a year (one maybe every two years?) A child that is old enough to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is not necessarily old enough to read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

There’s another part of the narrative of the Place Of Harry Potter in Early 21st Century Literature—one I’m not sure how to feel about. Harry Potter’s adventures at Hogwarts and in Diagon Alley began as good fun and games, but as the series evolved the narrative became strongly—well I’ve been thinking about this all weekend and the best phrase I’ve come up with is “fight the power” (I considered “anti-fascist”). If you’ve got a better phrase please let me know and I’ll change it.

The later volumes came out during the beginning of the Bush and Blair administrations “War on Terror.” After Voldemort returns in the fourth book, Harry Potter begins his personal struggle against the Ministry of Magic because the Ministry refuses to believe that Voldemort is back. The ministry sends an inquisitor to his school in the next volume—look on Reddit for most hated literary characters ever and you will find Dolores Umbridge—and Harry fights her—even though she is a teacher and he a pupil. Harry questions the ministry’s policy of indefinite detention as well. A lot of this is a reaction to the policies of the Bush and Blair administrations. At the time the books were published I admit I took hope in what JK Rowling was writing. However, I admit that this makes them less fun to read.

I have long felt that artists—particularly writers have a duty not just to entertain but to hold up a mirror to the world so that it can see itself. I don’t think this means that they have to be miserabilists (like Balzac or Hugo.) One can entertain—and make a point (if you don’t believe me start reading Gail Collins and Beaumarchais.) In fact the point sticks better if one entertains. However, in spite of believing this I still wonder what the Harry Potter book series would have been if there hadn’t been the War on Terror to react to. JK Rowling says it was always about death (according to Wikipedia) and so perhaps it would always have been dark—even without George Bush. I also wonder about how this has changed it’s future value—particularly as children’s literature.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dorky Dads are the Best Dads

Not even my nerdiest friends could tell me what Two's Complement notation was, but when I called home last night and asked Dad he actually remembered what the hell it is. (Thus proving that he is in fact the clearing house for all kinds of arcane knowledge.)

Then he made me laugh about floating point calculations and we talked about Byzantine history--specifically how Guy Gavriel Kay's Sarantium is Constantinople--complete with "Sarantine fire," a version of the Arian heresy and an empress who started out as an actress.

Now if only I could teach him to text.

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's Just One Year

Immediately after buying a house and moving in, I went back to graduate school. I know it's only one course at a time, and I don't have to go to South Boston to take classes (UMB) but I'm finding school and work demanding and draining. I feel like I will remember 2012 as the year where I was always too tired.

My friends are supportive--they know it's just a year. I don't see as much of them as I did previously, but there are still breakfasts at Sugar Mags and dinners at the Old Spot. I have learned I can't go out to breakfast, write/compile a group project, go to the grocery store* and have dinner all in one day, so I eat breakfast in and skip the grocery store.

It's not just school, of course--it's Bust Your Ass Season** at work. Last Friday I was in a project management meeting for Big Thing. The Project Manager asked that we submit all our summer vacation to him.*** This would have been fine, but my sister and I hadn't scheduled a time for her to come up with her kids yet this summer. I called her on my cell phone from one of the conference rooms at work. "I have to schedule all my vacation time for the rest of the summer today." I said along with many other less than coherent things. The end result of the conversation was that my sister said that maybe they wouldn't come up this year. "It's only a year you're in school--right?" she said.

As I left the conference room I said "I hate myself." Apparently I said it out loud, because the receptionist said "Don't feel that way about yourself."

When I talkeed to my sister the next day she said "Look--you're super busy now and you're going to feel all 'EEEEH' I don't want to come up and be around you when you feel that way--it's like when people came to visit right after I had a baby--I was like 'Thank you for coming, but now is not a good time to visit'." Clearly she gets it. And forgives me--or if she doesn't, at least she understands the concept "overwhelmed".

Her son, who is 7 is less forgiving. He asked to speak to me "Are you very busy now?" he asked. "Yes" I responded. "Okay. Bye."

I asked my sister what that was about and she said she wasn't sure, but she had explained to the kids that they wouldn't be coming up to Massachusetts this summer because I had other stuff going on.

Ow. Cue "Cat's in the Cradle."That's right kiddos--you can't go to the beach this summer because I'm too busy. I am a waste of carbon and hydrogen.

My mom and my aunt will be in Gloucester staring Sunday. I'm hoping to get to show them my house and see them for dinner and go to the beach with them, but my ability to do any of these things is severely hindered because next week/weekend is the last week of the class I'm in now and I'll probably be spending a good portion of it doing a final project (as yet undisclosed--good fun though, I'm sure.) The timing sucks. A week later I'd be in week one of my next class--with marginally more free time.

There hasn't been much beach for me this summer. I am still not fully moved into my house and there is still construction dust in the kitchen. I have friends who have volunteered to help me clean, but I've spent every weekend doing homework. I can't take any more time off for the next month (to clean, do homework or just to chillax.) I hate that all my mental efforts--all of my processing time--is devoted to work or school. I hate that I have almost nothing left for my friends or my family. It's really this that bothers me the most.

And so I tell myself--it's just one year. And I count the weeks.

*For those of you raising your eyebrows at this--I live in suburbia and I don't drive. Going to the grocery store is a Project.

**I remember when summer was a slow time where I worked. For the last two years it has been Crazy Go Nuts season.

***Oversimplification, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The One Thing I *Did* Learn in Business School

I'm currently taking a class in systems architecture. For some reason that is not at all apparent to me (or most of my classmates) the professor has decided to teach this class with group work and group presentations.

Group work can be torture-it doesn't have to be, but it often is more work to have three people collaborate on a problem set than it is to do it individually. I admit I learned a lot more from my group work buddies in business school than I learned from the professors, but that does not mean it was always fun. Discussions were had at 11:30 at night. Tempers were lost. But even the most feckless of my MBA study-buddies knew how to give a presentation.

Now I'm swimming in a different ocean than I was before. My MSIT program is a good deal more relaxed than UMB's MBA program was. Professors have been known to put people in groups, give them a question and expect them to have an answer-in PowerPoint form in 30 minutes. Tonight the whole class met with their groups for the first time in 2 weeks and we all had about 15 minutes to decide on which of the problems we'd worked on tompresent to the whole class. As a result, the presentations given were less than stellar. Guys stood with their backs to the class and read PowerPoint slides. In shorts. In bored tones.

We never did anything so unrehearsed in business school-it might have killed a few of us (myself included) to have to do so. Presentations were obsessed over-we developed extra slides in case one of our classmates felt like playing "gotcha"-we rehearsed, we dressed.

And afterwards we always said "nice job guys" (because our presentations were amazing-really.) I found myself wondering if I should e-mail my current group of study buddies and say "good job guys" and ultimately I decided not to. I really do believe in saying thank you, but this was effortless (relatively speaking) and I thought it would be over the top to give out praise. More to the point? I'm afraid that some of them might think it pretentious of me.

Which brings me to my point of concern. Part of the reason I switched grad school tracks was because I wanted to be among people who cared more about what can actually be accomplished than what looks nice. I wanted to work with people who believe what you know is more important than how you're dressed. And here I am complaining about presentation skills.

On the other hand, I have learned (very INTJ that I am) how to present material as if I care. I don't like standing up in front of people and speaking but I can do it. I try do do it well partly because it's less boring for the rest of the class, and partly because i feel it's as imporant as turning it gramatically correct writing. Sometimes I feel like I brought the wrong skill set to the party.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

So..Your Parents Let You Get a Degree in French Literature?

I get asked this question, or variations of it often--usually by guys with degrees in engineering.* I've considered responses like "yes, and as you can see I'm employed in spite of this" and "well if everyone got a degree in engineering then the skill set would be less valued."

Lately I've considered changing my default response to "Not everyone is a Quant--the world needs Verbals too."

Now that I am back in grad school I can very easily see the value of being a literature geek. For example--I just took a class in computer security. A good portion of that class was about math, because it was about probability, and cryptography and cyphers.

It's hard to do math after years out of practice. (See also, my struggles with Statistics last year). It's hard to understand a lecture about math at 8 PM after working all day. I think the professor understood that. I however had no problem with the math involved in basic cryptography** because I've read Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon about 17 times. I had no problem at all with the Playfair cypher either--because Lord Peter Wimsey explains it in Dorothy Sayers's Have His Carcase.

Being widely read is helpful, but what is more helpful is the ability to analyse ideas and write about them. This is one thing that a literature degree teaches you to do well. I can no longer write a 40 page paper (or even a 4 page paper) in French, but I can analyse text--whether it's a short story or a business case--and I can explain my analyses in written form. This is useful in graduate school--even if you're getting a degree in IT.

*Yes, always guys. To be fair I've not met that many female engineers.
**Basic math--all about probability and work factor. No prime numbers were factored or harmed in this course.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

It's my 15th Anniversary College Reunion This Weekend and I'm Not There

I've been seeing my former classmates post about heading to the Re-U (or being at the Re-U) today and it's weirding me out. Mostly thought it's making me sad.

This is not because I want to be there. I'm pretty sure it's the kind of thing that would Not Work Out For Me (flashback to first night at Carleton with all the new students. Me talking awkwardly with an an incoming Junior in Sayles while the men's track team streaks. Me going back to dorm room to write letters to high school friends soon after.) Some people do well at big gatherings. I am not one of them. I am one of those people who hates weddings. This would just be like a giant wedding party-sans bridal couple.

I'm sad because I remember working over the summer during reunions with some of the people who are there this weekend. I remember one friend of mine ignoring alums smoking pot in the men's room in Sayles* and another having to bust skinny dipping alums in one of the pools (my summer job was security.) One of my friends said "well my boss said that if you see alums shooting up on the stirs of Sayles you should ignore them."

I remember wondering why the fuck respectable adults who could afford hotel rooms would want to come and spend a few nights sleeping in Burton--which was not only un-air-conditioned but the heat was on in the summer.

Paired with this is my remembrance of working Security on Graduation day my junior year and helping to kick all the graduates out on graduation day (and locking up after them) and a year later being kicked out myself. "A diploma is an eviction notice written in Latin." I remember how much leaving Carleton really hurt.

When I went back to visit a few years later I was talking with a friend of mind who settled in the Cities. He was saying how he went back to Carleton to visit often. I asked "Isrn't it weird to go into Sayles Hill and not have a mailbox that's yours?" He answered "I don't go into Sayles much."

Maybe I'm just depressed that me and my friends have become the alums. Maybe I'm sad because I know that going back to a reunion would probably not work for me the way it appears to be working for my facebook friends. Maybe I'm just envious because they'll be drinking Standup Falldowns** and skinny dipping in Boliou fountain while I'm at home doing homework.

But I'll get over it. I'll go to the beach tomorrow. And besides I know another Carl who lives in Beverly who's not at the Re-U this weekend. *thinking back on it thes seems like a profoundly dumb idea--there's plenty of secluded woody spots on Carleton Campus to smoke dope--there's a whole arboretum--why do your illegal activity in the bathroom of the campus center? **Probably (hopefully) not. Standup Falldowns are frozen lemonade with almost enough water and lots of cheap vodka.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hello Me Not Dead*

I realize I've been pretty silent in 2012. Part of that is because I've been busy with stuff I can't write about here--like work or buying a house--and part of it is I've just been busy.

I took a year off of grad school because work was insane and now I've started a new program. It's an MSIT program on the North shore as opposed to an MBA program in South Boston. I'll be done in about a year and it looks like it will involve less pain and suffering than UMB's program. I'm not sure how that works--less pain and done sooner--I feel like I'm cheating.

I can't believe tomorrow's actually Saturday--I don't have to set an alarm or go to work. Of course, it looks like I have to spend a good portion of the day reading about Sarbanes Oxley (a law I thought I knew pretty well--turns out it's not all about e-mail compliance) but that's okay--it beats reading about Statistics. So far there's been no group work in this program. This means I don't have to wait on anyone else to hand work in and I don't have to watch anyone arguing with anyone else.

Last night I had dinner with my pack. I drank beer on the porch with Ellen and Peter. Mike cooked stir fried Yum! with fiddleheads. We came up with another of Cantabridgienne's laws (don't sext anyone who's not in your phonebook) and talked about cars. I laughed deeply for the first time in at least two weeks ("I thought someone was skinning a womprat in here--but then I realized that it's just Cantabridgienne's laugh.")

As dumb as it sounds, I got to watch people actually seeing each other and listening to each other (and to me) instead of watching people who just broadcast but don't receive (which has been my experience of humanity this Spring.)

It made a nice change from coming home from work, whimpering and moaning to myself while watching Dollhouse until bedtime. (Mind you, I'm grateful for Dollhouse--it's nice to have a world you can slide into whe you need to recover from reality.)

*from Spamusement

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shades of Grey

A friend recommended the Shades of Grey novels to me. She said that she could not put them down. She also said that after buying the first book,she sent her husband out to get the second book in the series a day later and the bookstore she sent him to had run out of the first book.
I could use a page turner, so when I was in Target a few days after the recommendation I went looking for the books (Yes, I know--God kills a kitten every time I buy a book from a big box store.) They were sold out of volume I. I ran into another woman looking for the book. "Maybe I'll just buy it for my iPad." I said. "That's a good idea--that way way no one will know what you're reading." she replied.
It was clear to me that this was trashy romance fiction. But, y'know what? My life is Difficult--work is busy and I'm going to school. I told myself that it was okay to read a silly popular romance--I might even enjoy it*.
I did not enjoy the book. Spoiler alert here--for those of you who don't know Shades of Grey (the first book) is about woman named Ana who at the age of 21 (just as she's about to graduate from college) meets a man named Christian who's a successful CEO about 7 years older than her and who she finds adorable. He thinks she's hot too. The catch? He's "50 shades of fucked up" so he doesn't have normal relationships with women--he has BDSM relationships with women involving NDAs (Non Disclosure Agreements) and contracts between a Dominant (him) and a Submissive(the girl in question.)
The book disturbed me. I was not disturbed by the fact that the male protagonist likes to tie the female protagonist up (and maybe spank her or hit her with a riding crop) before he fucks her--what disturbed me was that 1) the heroine's experience reads like that of a woman in an abusive relationship 2) this is apparently the most popular book with American women since Twilight.
What do I mean when I say that this reads like an abusive relationship? When Ana goes to meet Christian's family, one of her friends mentions that Ana hung out with a guy friend of hers to make Christian jealous. Ana is distressed about this, because Christian's a control freak and she knows he will probably take his anger out on her (he does) but she can say nothing, because she has signed an NDA (and she wouldn't anyways--because she adores Christian.) This is why the popularity of the series disturbs me.
I suppose part of the appeal is that the successful-and-hot-but-fucked-up guy who "doesn't do the boyfriend thing" considers Ana special and dangles the idea that he might be willing to consider her more than his submissive toy in front of her. Some of the appeal might be that for the first novel they mostly have sex in various ways. They then proceed to discuss things they don't talk about in person over e-mail.
When Christian spanks Ana for punishment the first time he is surprised that she doesn't cry. After an e-mail exchange he comes back to see here and s distressed that she is crying--partly because she was crying and he didn't know about it. He says "I take it that when you said you were okay [post spanking], you weren't...Anastasia you can't tell me what you think I want to hear." He then goes on to speak to her more about how she felt about him spanking her. I'm willing to admit that some women might find this attractive. Personally I found this particular scene *terrifying*. To me it looked like Ana was not even allowed to be alone in her head--Christian had to intrude and manage.
When I asked another friend of mine (who also reads romance novels) why this series was so poplar she pointed out that the domineering male protagonist was a staple of romance fiction. That is true, but none of the romance fiction I enjoy includes the rider "He punishes me when no one is looking, but I don't tell anyone because I love him." That is not a quote--it's a distillation. Why is this attractive to american women?

*I can be snobbish about my choices in literature--It's mostly a self-defense mechanism. However, at this point anyone who wants to look down on me for my taste in literature is welcome to come and do my job for a few days and tell me how much they feel like reading Plato's Symposium after all that.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


I don't remember when I first heard of Ayrton Senna, but it must have been sometime in 1998. Maybe I came across his name while reading old Formula 1 magazines on a slow day at the office, or maybe one of my colleagues told me about him.

In 1998 I was in Paris working for ICN, which was a subsidiary of Rothman's. ICN's raison d'ĂȘtre was to promote Rothman's (Winfield) Williams's Formula 1 team. Ayrton Senna died while driving for the Williams team about 5 years before I started working for them.

He was one of the best Formula 1 drivers of the 20th century--he might have been the best if he hadn't died on the track. Perhaps I was curious about him because in 1998 I was working for a team where neither driver (Villeneuve and Frentzen) was a contender for the title (despite the fact that they'd won first and second place the previous year). Michael Schumacher of Ferrari and Mika Hakkinen of McLaren won almost every race that year. Hakkinen struck me as a man with no personality at all and Schumacher had too much--I remember him almost punching David Coulthard in the face after their vehicles crashed into each other. Neither drove for "our" team. So the idea of a man who drove a Williams car and who could have given who could have given Schumi something to chew on if only he hadn't died was tantalizing.

I remember when my boss went on a mad cleaning fit and insisted we throw everything old out. One of my colleagues paused in the act of tossing out a binder of slides. "C'est Senna." she explained. From then on we examined all the slides before tossing them--hoping to relieve the monotony of cleaning by finding something of value. No one else found Senna slides.

A few night's ago I found that Netflix was suggestiong that I watch Senna--a documentary made about Ayrton Senna in 2010. I wondered if I should watch it--after all I wouldn't watch a movie about a Red Sox player from 1993--would I? But I once knew and cared a great deal more about Formula 1 as a sport then I ever have about Baseball. Besides--baseball is rarely fatal Formula 1 was. Senna was one of two who died at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix and one other was injured. I remember reading Damon Hill describing how he passed by the wrecked car of his team mate Senna right after the accident. How the Hell do you keep driving after that? Michael Schumacher won the race. I always wondered how he felt about that.

Many people complained that the changes made to some of the circuits in Formula to make them more safe made them boring.At the time (1998-99) I was inclined to agree with them. After watching this movie I think differently. The most interesting parts of motor sports are passing and accidents--but accidents shouldn't be fatal. Watching Senna gave me a chance to see the F1 world before they put some of these safety regulations in place.

Watching the movie also helped me remember how much I enjoyed watching the races. And I felt nostalgic seeing the Rothman's Williams Renault uniforms. They changed the uniforms the year I started in F1. The team was now Winfiled Williams and Winfield was a wanna-be Marlboro so the color of the uniforms changed from blue to red. But all in the pictures we had around the office of drivers who'd actually won a race the driver was wearing the old blue and white uniform.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Plants vs Zombies

I was never really into video games as a kid. I suspect I escaped this vice mostly because I had bad hand eye coordination, since I was willing to watch others play Super Mario Brothers or Doom, in order to be social.

But that all changed last month when I bought Plants vs Zombies. I bought an iPad last month and, on the recommendation of one of my friends children, bought Plants vs Zombies. I figured it might be something I could play with my nephews-maybe I'd enjoy screwing around with it myself. As it turned out, I had just purchased an app to make time disappear. I started playing it one night and the next thing I knew it was an hour and a half later-during which time I had not moved. I'm a fidgety person, I stopped going to movies because I can't sit still long enough to enjoy films (certainly not to allow the friends who came its me to enjoy the film). So it was a surprise to me that I had sat still for that long.

This proved to be a reproducible phenomenon- the same thing happened the next night. I started feeling the need to get home from work or from social occasions in order to plant snow pea plants and kill bucket heads. I was glad to have an activity that was so diverting, but I was a little embarrassed to be obsessed by a kids game. I looked Plants vs Zombies up online. Apparently there are versions of it for Windows, Mac, Xbox and Nintendo, as well as iPad and iPhone (one of my colleagues told me about the phone version.)

Over the weekend I let one of my buddies who is regularly into games play Plants vs Zombies. He revised his original statement--" this is just a kids game that's kind of fun." after it kicked his ass a few times. Then he bought a version of the game himself.

I brought the iPad home for Christmas. I downloaded a copy of the book I was reading onto the bookshelf so that I wouldn't have to haul it down to New York-I could just bring this slim device instead. I didn't read any of my books on the train ride home ( this is a first) instead I killed zombies between Boston and New York City.

I was unable to really interest my nephew in the game ( I stopped trying after it gave my niece nightmares) but I played it to relax the whole of my Christmas visit and the whole way back to Boston. I'd gotten to a level where I had to kill an almost indestructible zombie. In stead of just repeatedly getting my brains eaten by zombies I started to think about strategy--I would need a lot of the plants that blew up when planted. Would the freezing mushrooms help? I started experimenting in the quick play part of the game ( you can pick a level and just play it if you've got only a few minutes to kill or if you want to practice killing a particular zombie before having to do it "for real."

I was *practicing*--rehearsing before trying to play a particular zombie. How often do I do that in real life? My gamer guy friends were amazed "I love seeing how obsessed you are by that game." said one. My girl friends laughed at me as I was quietly horrified by the degree of my obsession.

I'm glad to have something that interests me this much--even if it's just a game. What I really wish however was that there was some activity that fascinated me so much that I could take up *professionally.*