Wednesday, July 30, 2008

First on 'The List'...


Well, what do you know? Already a week in and I am already working on ‘The List’. I started out by doing some research on High School Required Reading lists. So far I have found out, there is no such thing as a ‘standard’ reading list for all high school students, but rather each school creates their own list. Since I hated John Foster Dulles High School, I won’t be using those bastards’s list or any schools located in the Bible belt. I want to go with a more progressive and open minded curriculum. It seems that the protocol is for a selected panel to review last year’s list and revise the selection for the coming year. That seems pretty fair to me, as long as you think like the panel. Using this thought process, I have decided to list a fair number of books that I have always heard about, but never read and let my readers pick the top 10. I also welcome any feedback about books not listed and WHY you think they should be on the list. I ask that you either post a comment with your top five choices (preferred) or e-mail them to me.

Here are the choices I have gathered from various HS Required Reading Lists so far:
1) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2) Lord of the Flies by William Golding
3) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
4) 1984 by George Orwell
5) Animal Farm by George Orwell
6) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
7) A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
8) Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
9) The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
10) Invisible Man: A Novel by Ralph Ellison
11) The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
12) Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
13) All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
14) Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
15) Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
16) The Crucible by Arthur Miller
17) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
18) Walden by Henry David Thoreau
19) Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes
20) Watership Down by Richard Adams

Now, before you start screaming, I can’t believe you left out ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. (Yes, I mean you Sally!) I left off books I’ve already read, ‘Pride & Prejudice’, ‘The Iliad’, ‘The Odyssey’, and so forth. I also tried to leave out plays, old English translations and under no circumstance was Shakespeare making the list. I know my limitations. Though to be honest, I am quite surprise at how many of these books pertained to or are set during the war. Not my favorite subject or time period, believe me.

Most of you that know me have probably read most of these books, and know which ones I will benefit most from reading. Remember, the whole point is to broaden my horizons, and to read the classics I missed out on in high school. When someone talks about Hemingway, Dickenson, or Faulkner; I want to know more than just they were writer who are now dead.

This is by far the easiest item on ‘The List’, I love reading. It is my passion. It also helps me out quite a bit financially that I moved right next door to the library in The Heights. So I will have no excuse not to simply walk on over, grab a book and return it when I am done. I have also decided that while I am waiting to complete Steven’s Post High School Reading List, to read something I have wanted for a long time, Sherlock Holmes. So take some time and think about it, and send me your responses, I can’t wait to start edjumicating me-self!
-Steven

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

White Trash Birthday Buffet


To take a line from Carol Burnett, ‘I’m so glad we had this time together…’ My dear sweet friends threw me the best birthday party I can ever remember. I had requested a game night party. I am highly competitive, and so are most of my friends. Good friends, good food, plenty of liquor, and games, what more could I ask for? My best friend and host, Eric had requested for me not to arrive too early to my birthday party. So I arrived comfortably late, about the same time as my hero Sister Epiphenita, her wonderful partner Barbara, and Ms. E’s sister #1 and her friend (who were visiting from out of town). The first thing I notice is 2 women I do not recognize, with very, uh… vibrant outfits, complete with rollers in the hair, and blue eye shadow. I was so taken back (and resisting the urge to write out a fashion citation or two) that I did not really notice Ms. E & St. Barbara’s homemade frocks. I was still wondering how I was going to get through the whole night without staring and drinking when I noticed my best friend wearing a blue Budweiser work shirt, and another dear friend Rhoda wearing a white tank top with a pack of Kools under the bra strap. I then realized if Rhoda dressed down this much and Eric was wearing polyblends, I was my White Trash birthday party! I quickly saw another good friend Sally (straight from working all day) who gave me a big hug.

Now first you have got to understand about Eric is: HE KNOWS HOW TO THROW A PARTY! There are no cutting corners, everything is fresh, it all goes well together, and the bar is full stocked. Unless, it is a football game, but even then everything goes into bowls, and never ever are there paper plates. He can cook very well, and so can Rhoda. That is how this party came about, it all happened because of my birthday cake. Rhoda had informed Eric that she was thinking about making a pretty impressive dessert for my birthday. Eric was quick to point out; Steven does not do frou-frou cakes for his birthday. Oh, no, it has to be Strawberry cake from a box with strawberry frosting (Duncan Hines or Pillsbury will do, I am not picky), no extra garnishes, and no fresh strawberries. Basically, it’s a box or nothing. Well, needless to say, Rhoda was not thrilled, AND not going to soil her hands by making a box cake. Eric thought it was so funny the way that Rhoda reacted, he told Ms. E the story. Together they decided to go with the cake and throw in a white trash theme for good measure. Ms. E took the reins and whipped up the following menu:
Tuna Cassarole
Hamburger Helper
Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Frosting
A Giant sized Ding Dong (it was yummy)
Frito’s and Bean dip (I think it killed Eric’s soul a bit to leave it in the can, instead of transferring it to a bowl)
Potato Chips and dips
Various Sodas, and Big Red of course (trust me, if you have never had it LOOK FOR IT!)
Watermelon (they bought it as a joke, but damn, it was good good and very sweet.)
All served on paper plates with plastic forks and plastic cups. For added ambiance they places yellow daisies (shudder) and baby’s breath in empty beer bottles and bear cartons. They also had the E! True Hollywood story of Britney Spears going on in the background.

Right from the start it was a blast, people mingling and catching up. Eric was heating things up in the kitchen, and at one point had me taste the ‘hamburger helper’. I use that term loosely since a it was the true Mac & Cheese Hamburger Helper, but with tofu crumbles instead of hamburger meat. Eric has been a vegetarian for over 12 year and will not cook meat, let alone eat it, no matter how much he professes to love me. While cooking it, he had me taste it.
I said, “it is very bland, did you use all the powdered cheese packet?’
He just looked at me and laughed, ‘Yes, I used all of the powdered cheese packet. I never thought those words would be used in my kitchen.’
That is when I realized; yes, he REALLY does love me. Poor Eric, he is probably still burning sage to get all the bad food Chi out of his kitchen.

All in all, everyone loved the food and many went back for seconds. I knew they would, the only thing that was missing was ‘pigs in a blanket’ (Rhoda was going to make them, but somehow it got shot down, hmm...) and those cocktail weenies in that sauce you always see at parties. Not to mention that tasty picture I found for the blog, oh and corn dogs and… o.k. I’ll stop. Although, I truly did miss Eric’s Hummus, hands down the best hummus in the world.

After we all loaded up, I let everyone rest for exactly one minute and then forced everyone to play games. They were foolish, if they thought I had forgotten! Nolan (Rhoda’s very tolerant and funny husband) played timekeeper, and we divided the room up into two teams and played Pictionary. We played two rounds, and we really had some hard ones! You just try to get you team members to get Rebecca (the book/movie) in under two minutes! We all laughed our asses off and had a great time. I remember one time, being close to tears, I was happier than I had been in such a long time. These are my friends and they went out of their way, took time off from work, stayed late after working a long day to be here for me, and I am so blessed to have them in my life.

The only thing that could have made it complete would have been if my out of town friends could have been here also. But I understand, but next year is the big one guys, no excuses I want to have you all here! Next year, it is going to be a pajama party. For all those who did come, my heart filled thanks; it meant the world to me. I will remember it forever.
THANK YOU!
-Steven

Friday, July 25, 2008

39, not 40!



Don’t even think about it! I still have one more year left before I turn forty; today I am only 39 (and I still have until 11:42 PM before that happens!). Forty, it is not as scary as I thought it would be. Granted, this is not what I pictured my life would be at this point. I imagined myself being in different place, hell, a different state at least! Houston, Texas is definitely not the imagined background for my midlife. I also did not picture myself being single again, living in an apartment or back in debt. Sometimes it can be really hard not to compare myself to others my age (or those even a decade younger) who have more, who are more settled, more financially secure with a ring on their finger. To steal a line from my fictitious alter ego: I can help, but wonder, ‘Why them, but not me?’

I guess the simplest explanation it would be: the difference in the choices we have made. I also know opportunity and luck can play part also, but it really comes down to choices. The choices I made have put me where I am, but so have the concessions that I have refused to make. I may not have a large house, a loving partner, a fancy car, an executive career, or even a real college degree, but I know the life I have lived and all that I have experienced would not have taken place if I had simply chosen to follow leader. I also know I have experienced more than most I know, and for that I am glad.

As I get older and I hope wiser, I am starting to see how perception is just as important as choices. When I start comparing myself to others, I have to stop and really ask myself 2 questions.

1) These people and their accomplishments or possessions, is it real or an illusion? Is their life really that great? Does that really equal them have more value or be happier than myself?

2) Even if they really do have everything, so what? That is their life, not mine. And really would I want to live their life rather than my own? No, not really.

As I stated earlier, the choices I made have put me where I am. It is true; I don’t have a large house, a loving partner, fancy car, an executive career, or blah, blah, blah. So what, I still have so much. I have loving friends that are family to me, that are always true to me. We can count on each other no matter what bad choices we make. My life would be a hollow shell without them. I am also lucky that my own blood family truly loves me, flaws and all. We may not be the Brady family, but it works. And I have my home which is my irrepressible Tallulah, and ever faithful Beaux, they will never be just dogs for me, they are my children. These are the things that matter, and the things that are true. I guess if I wanted those other things, I would have made the choices it would take to get them. For now at 39 I don’t have them, and that is ok. Who knows things may look a whole lot different at 40. Until then, I will try to live each day with integrity, and forgive myself when I fall short.

So life is good and this is a Happy Birthday for me. Thanks to all of you that make my life so special and worth waking up in the mornings.
Take care,
-Steven

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Countdown...



I was surfing the web and came across this quote, ‘Forty is the new twenty.’ God forbid! My twenties were one long test that I failed miserably. I quickly came across a different quote, ‘Forty is the new thirty.’ That I can work with. I loved my thirties! Now don't get me wrong, my thirties were also one long test, but this time I was better equipped to understand the questions. Although, the jury is still out on whether or not I have passed.


Why the quotes with references of forty? It is because I am turning 39 this Friday, July 25th. I thought it would be fun and productive to look up lists on 40 things to do before turning forty. Most of them were pretty silly (color my hair, get a makeover). Well, at least they seemed silly to me , also I view those as just maintenance not goals. Some of the goals were just impossible (write a book, learn a foreign language). Maybe impossible is the wrong word, I really mean impracitical . I guess it is possible to achieve those goals, but not if I still want to complete other goals I have for myself.


Then I realized a list of forty things to do or accomplish within a year is just not practical. The whole point, for me, to do these things is to get out of the house, try new things and enjoy life. I know myself, and I seriously doubt I am going to enjoy these great ideas and goals if I put myself on an unrealistic deadline with too many tasks. I can just see myself trying to do 10-20 things next July justto complete my list 'on time'. I want these goals/experiences to enrich my life, and hopefully improve my horrible people skills along the way. So instead, I have trimmed it down to just a few instead.


OK, so here we go:


1) Join a group or organization that I am have an interest in. Not to meet a husband, or to impress anyone either. Just to find something of interest that I can believe in and support. Hopefully this can be a way to get active and support our community.


2) Attend a meeting in a subject that I have always been interested in, but not familiar or comfortable with. It does not have to be fulltime or that I have to join. It is more about testing my limits and getting me out of my comfort zone, and gaining more knowledge. After all knowledge is power.


3) Enter a competition. Not sure where I want to take this to, but I could see it being more than one thing. I would really like to send my writing out, but also to compete in some primal way also. It is hard to explain, it is just a feeling I feel I need to fill. I want to be at the top of my game in some area of my life again.


4) Transcribe ALL of my writing into electronic format. I have been meaning to do this for years. Hopefully this will inspire me to write more. Although, it is very hard to write and not smoke. That was my thing, my writing process. Even doing just this is very difficult without smoking.


5) Attend on cultural event each and every month. I did pretty well this last year, although it is hard with money being so tight. I want to see it all: plays, art exhibits, dance recitals. I think I may even want to try the opera or symphony. I have a feeling it just may not be my thing,. I did that last year with ballet. I like the music, but I was a bit bored. At least I tried it.


6) Take a class in something I have never tried before. I am feeling very Rosie. I think I would like to take a welding class or something crafty. I would also like or take a yoga or Tai Chi class to see if I am doing it correctly. Maybe even a cooking class.


7) I want to get a hold of a required high school reading list and read all the books on it. My high school years were so miserable, so I skipped school as much as possible. As a result I have never read some of the classic or even the basics. Sometimes I feel real unintelligent due to this. The saddest thing is not sharing the experience with someone in a group/class setting.


8) Lose enough weight so I can go skydiving before I turn 40! I also want to go cave spelunking again. I really enjoyed it, and have wanted to do it again for years. I know none of my friends will go with me, but maybe I can make some friends who do like it.


9) Have a dinner night with friends. Even if it is every other month, I think it would be a blast and something to look forward to doing. This takes more than just me. Not sure if it is a whole potluck kind of thing or each friend does a different theme night. I shall ask and we shall see what happens.


10) Try and go back to church. I really miss nurturing the spiritual side of myself. I really love God, it is just his dumb followers that piss me off. I don’t know what I will find out there, but I feel I am ready to try again.


Well, that is a start. Also I promise myself not to beat myself up if I fall short of the mark. If I learn anything from this it will be to enjoy the journey instead of focusing in on reaching the finish line.

-Steven