Archive for January, 2006
Marathon Girl has a nickname among some in the neighborhood. That nickname is Super Woman.
A lot of this reputation comes from the fact that she runs all the time. Rain or shine, pregnant or not, and often pushing Aidan in a running stroller, Marathon Girl doesn’t let anything stop her from running.
The few times I was able to run with her this summer, it seems like we always passed someone we knew who shouted to her “You’re amazing!”
Now that we have two kids, running is a little more difficult. Of late Marathon Girl’s waits until I come home after work before hitting the road. But depending on what happens during the day, running is not only possible. Sometimes she’s exhausted from keeping up with the kids. Other days she’s behind on things she wanted to get done and doesn’t have time to run. If she could run in the middle of the day, it would be much more convenient.
To make this possible, we purchased a double-wide running stroller online.
Marathon Girl called this morning to say that the running stroller arrived. When I arrived home, the running stroller was fully assembled.
Tomorrow Marathon Girl goes for a run.
I’m wondering what her new nickname is going to be.
January 31st, 2006
L.A. Weekly has apparently uncovered
another author whose memoirs are fake. This time though instead of making up certain events, a la James Frey, L.A. Weekly says the prize-winning Native American writer who calls himself Nasdijj is really Tim Barrus, a white writer of gay erotica. Whether or not these allegations are true, remains to be seen. L.A. Weekly’s piece gives good reason to think Nasdijj is Barrus, but not as clear cut as the Smoking Gun’s report
on Frey. If the story is accurate, I think the publishing industry is going to have to do some due diligence when it comes to accepting memoirs.
I’ve wondered if this controversy is going to affect my ability to sell my own memoir. I’m not worried about an agent or publisher doing some background work on mine to confirm the story for I have nothing to hide. My concern is that the publishing industry is going to stop accepting as many memoirs so they don’t continually look like dopes when their celebrated authors turn out to be nothing more than frauds.
And not to beat this subject to death but apparently on today’s Oprah Winfrey show Oprah is going to openly regret her phone call to Larry King in defense of James Frey and his highly embellished memoir A Million Little Pieces. According to those who have seen today’s feed to stations, Oprah said “The truth matters. My judgment was clouded.”
Two weeks ago I wrote that it was a bad idea for Oprah to defend a liar. I’m glad she’s come to her senses.
January 26th, 2006
I still have a hard time at funerals.
Even when they’re for those I barely know.
Like this weekend, for example. We went to a funereal for Julie’s grandmother.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve talked to her.
For many years her mind has been gone. She doesn’t know who you are, what day it is, or even where she is. One time she looked out the window and said it was the most beautiful November morning she had ever seen. She said this on a July afternoon.
So this last week I kept hinting to Julie that I didn’t want to go. I told myself it was because I didn’t know this woman that well and my time could be better spent watching the kids so she could enjoy the funeral and say goodbye to her grandmother.
But Saturday came and to the funeral we went. And I we were driving to the funeral I felt myself tearing up. I turned on the radio and listened to sports announcers analyze the upcoming Broncos Steelers game hoping to distract myself.
It didn’t work.
I still had to fight back the tears.
So I flipped over to the FM band and tried to find some music that everyone would like. Thought the act of flipping through stations would distract me.
That didn’t work either.
Tried talking to Julie about anything other than the funeral. Anything to take my mind of what was coming up.
Even that didn’t work
And by the time we arrived at the church, it was taking all my concentration just to keep myself together.
And then once we walked in the door of the church, I lost it.
Needless to say, you don’t really stand out when you’re crying at a funeral. Aside from Julie’s immediate family, I didn’t know anyone there so most people just assumed I as crying for the deceased.
I guess I was, in a way.
Just not for the person everyone came to see.
Finally, just as the service started I was able to pull myself together and make sure Aidan behaved during the funeral. As I listened to people talk about this woman, I realized how little I knew about her. I didn’t know she worked for an intelligence unit in World War II or that she was such a good teacher. It was a beautiful service and a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman.
And in the end I was glad I went.
Because life isn’t about taking the easy way out. Often it’s about taking on the difficult task or enduring the unbearable moment and coming through the whole situation a little bit stronger, and more grateful for what you do have.
I have no doubt there as the years pass there will be more funerals I’ll need to attend.
And when it comes time for one of them, I’ll be there.
No matter how difficult it might be.
January 23rd, 2006
One of the forgotten stories of World War II is the heroism of Bulgarians in saving their Jewish population from Hitler’s concentration camps. I first heard this story from an old man in Sofia ten years ago. At the time I had lived in Bulgaria six months and my langue skills weren’t great. As I listened to an old man tell us how Bulgaria refused to send their Jewish population to Hitler’s death camps, I thought I didn’t understand everything he said correctly. If Bulgaria hadn’t sent its Jewish population to Germany, how come I hadn’t heard about it in school? Why was this remarkable story lost when people talked about the Holocaust.
Back in our apartment that evening my companion and I talked about what he had said. Neither of us had head of this story and we both wondered if the old man was getting a kick telling some outlandish story to naive Americans. I heard the story a few other times before I returned to the states. I never really doubted the story but wondered why in all the books and classes about World War II I had never head of about Bulgaria being the only country to not turn over its Jewish population to Germany.
After I returned home from the states I started reading Bulgarian history books. Most of these books confirmed the story that Bulgaria managed to save it’s entire population of 50,000 Jews, but the details and events of exactly how that came about were lacking. Occasionally I’d search the Internet hoping to find some more information. (One of the more interesting ones was a site about Dimitar Peshiv, one of the key people in saving Bulgaria’s Jews.) Most of the sites I found weren’t that helpful.
Then by chance I stumbled across Beyond Hitler’s Grasp: The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews and I finally found the book that contained all the information and detail I’ve searched many years for. As a history book it is well written and fascinating to read how a country that was aligned with Germany, managed to save its entire Jewish population. (The book is hard to find. Amazon doesn’t have any copies in stock buy does link to some resellers who carry the book.)
Compared to most countries in Europe at the time, there was little anti-Semitism in Bulgaria leading up to and during World War II. Bulgarian Jews were, for the most part, an integrated part of society. Despite this, the Bulgarian Parliament passed several anti-Jewish measures — such as forcing them to wear yellow stars and register with the government — to keep the Alliance with Germany intact. (For siding with German, Bulgaria was given Macedonia and Thracian part of Greece — lands that Bulgaria lost after World War I and believed to be rightfully theirs.)
Eventually a few anti-Semitic leaders set up a mass deportation that would send all Bulgarian Jews to Poland and certain death. It was only with the profound effort of about 50 people that eventually the plan to deport Bulgarian Jews was stopped.
Though Bulgaria managed to save its Jewish population, it was still a difficult time for its Jewish citizens. After the deportation plan was foiled, most Jews were as day-laborers or sent to temporary camps inside Bulgaria. In some camps the Jews were treated well and in other camps they were not. And, unfortunately, Bulgaria’s hands aren’t totally clean of blood. Bulgaria did deport non-Bulgarian Jews from the territories it had annexed. Almost 12,000 Jews for Thrace and Macedonia were sent to their deaths in Poland and elsewhere.
What struck me most about the book was how few people intervened to stop the deportations. For some reason I had expected because there was little, if any, animosity toward the Jews, the people of Bulgaria would be the ones to demand that they not be deported. But even though most were against the measures taken, they were silent. And not knowing what it was like to live in Bulgaria during World War II, I’m not necessarily blaming them for their inaction. (For the book, it seemed like a fairly tense and difficult period for just about anyone.) However, it does reinforce the fact that when good people do nothing, evil flourishes. And those who do act, even when their numbers are small, can have a profound effect on an entire nation.
Beyond Hitler’s Grasp: The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews 3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
January 20th, 2006
The gods of football bless then mock me. After allowing the Pittsburgh Steelers to upset the Indianapolis Colts, thus giving Denver a home game for the AFC Championship game (for which there was cause for much rejoicing), I find out today it is scheduled for the exact time I’m in church.
The gods of football laugh.
Did I mention one of my friends has tickets to the game?
The gods of football laugh.
Did I mention they’re on the 50-yard line?
The gods of football laugh.
On a more serious note, I’ve combined the Bulgarian Memories blog posts into one continuous narrative here. I’ve renamed it Tsarovo. Enjoy.
January 17th, 2006
A few years ago I wrote how my football watching habits had changed. It seems like every year since then the amount of football I watch on the weekends has decreased. This year I’ve watched the least amount of football ever.
It’s not that I don’t like football. I love the game. But this year between writing the book, family, and other commitments, there wasn’t a lot of time to spend on football. (The only game I watched this year was the Broncos Cowboy game on Thanksgiving Day.)
But even though I wasn’t cheering them on, my Broncos played well this year and ending the season with a 13-3 record. Fortunately they had a playoff game on a day when I had nothing planned, I made sure I set aside three hours to watch.
I’m glad I did. If I had to pick one game to watch, this was the one. To cheer on the Broncos as they manhandled the two-time defending SuperBowl champions 27-13 was well worth it. I’m already looking forward to next weekend’s game.
January 14th, 2006
Last night Oprah Winfrey called into Larry King Live to support embattled author James Frey and his “memoir” A Million Little Pieces. Said Oprah:
“…the underlying message of redemption in James Frey’s memoir still resonates with me, and I know it resonates with millions of other people who have read this book.”
What is relevant is that he was a drug addict who spent years in turmoil from the time he was 10 years old drinking and tormenting himself and his parents, and stepped out of that history to be the man that he is today and to take that message to save other people and allow them to save themselves….
To me [the controversy surrounding the accuracy of his book] seems to be much ado about nothing.”
Sorry Oprah. The fictionalization of key scenes of a memoir is not much ado about nothing. Read the 13,000 word investigation by The Smoking Gun. We’re not talking about forgetting something or someone recalling an event differently. Frey made up entire parts of the book. (For those who don’t have to time to read The Smoking Gun report, Slate carries an excellent summary of the fabrications here.)
I’m glad the underlying message of redemption resonates with you, but that doesn’t make outright lying in a memoir acceptable. If Frey wished to embellish his work to that extent, he should have marketed it as fiction.
Every reader should approach a memoir (or a blog for that matter) with a grain of skepticism. Memoirs are the authors retelling of events to the best of their memory. As I stated yesterday, two people who experienced the same event could recall it differently. But the two people should agree that the event and key elements of the scene happened.
The fact that Frey went to such lengths to make him look like a bad boy (when he was really nothing of the sort) casts doubt on the rest of his story. Though no one doubts he spent time in rehab, we may never know how much of that story is real.
Instead of defending him, Oprah, you should be taking a more serious look at the allegations. Defending a liar only makes you look gullible and dumb.
January 12th, 2006
I first read James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces when first came out in 2003. I found the novel to be a fascinating (although slightly disturbing) read of his years as an addict and criminal who gets checked into a rehab clinic by his parents. So it was interesting to read what The Smoking Gun has discovered about the book. Apparently Frey fabricated entire parts of his “memoir” and embellished details of is criminal career. The allegations of falsehoods must be fairly serious because Frey’s publisher, Random House, is offering refunds to those who bought the book directly from them.
Talk about a career killer. If the publisher is refunding people copies, they must have some serious reason to believe there’s more fiction than fact in the “memoir.” And Frey’s credibility as a writer was just flushed down the toilet. (For the record, Frey does a piss poor job refuting the allegations on his blog. (At this posting, the blog is no longer operational)
One thing I’ve learned about writing my own memoir is that it’s highly personal. And when you’re left to your own memory, some slight differences in how others recall certain events can and will differ.
For example, there is one scene in my book where I my dad and I go back to my apartment a few days after my first wife killed herself. In my memory we went back to pick up some clothes. When my dad was in the apartment gather a few things (I stayed in the car) he listened to the answering machine and retrieved a previously undiscovered message from my first wife. (A verbal suicide note, so to speak.)
When my dad read that scene over the holidays he recalled it a bit differently. He thought we went back for something other than clothes and recalled that my brother went into the apartment with him. Both of these facts could be true. My brother could have been with us and we may have gone back to the apartment for something other than clothes (though I can’t think of anything else I would have needed at that time). However, my dad does remember going back to the apartment with me and remembers listening and being very shaken by the message on the answering machine and talking with me about it after he found it.
If people were simply saying they recalled an event in A Million Little Pieces differently then Frey, I would assume, like my dad and I, their recollection of the event differed. But once you fabricate an event in a memoir, it no longer becomes a memoir — it’s fiction. If Frey had to make up scenes in order to sell his book to publisher, that’s unfortunate. He had tremendous literary talent. (One might say he had too much talent.) It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Whatever the outcome, Frey’s credibility is shot. I doubt we’ll see any more non-fiction books from him again.
On a happier note, is everyone else excited that there’s finally a new episode of Lost on tonight? It’s about time. I’ve been having severe Lost withdrawals. My addiction needs to be fed.
Maybe I should write a book chronicling my month-long withdrawal from Lost. I could say I was arrested for pirating copies of the second season, thrown out of the house by Marathon Girl for constantly watching reruns, and had to check myself into a rehab clinic specifically for those going through Lost withdrawal. The book might sell around 3.5 million copies and be picked by Oprah for her book club.
I think I’ll start a first draft of the novel tonight– right after the latest Lost episode, of course.
January 11th, 2006
It’s been unseasonably warm for January with temperatures in the mid-to-high forties. This is great winter weather for runners. Marathon Girl has been taking full advantage of the weather lately and improving her running time. She came back from a run Saturday afternoon out of breath but excited.
“I just ran four miles at 7:30 per mile,” she said and sat on the floor exhausted.
I congratulated Marathon Girl on her time then started thinking about my running. I realized I haven’t timed one of my four mile runs in months. So this morning when I dressed for my run, I made sure to wear my watch so I could time myself.
I pushed myself hard during the run. I wanted to have a nice time to show Marathon Girl. Four miles later, my side aching, I finished the run and walked slowly up the sidewalk toward home. Once inside I looked at my watch. My time: 33:15 (about 8:18 per mile).
When did I start running so slow?
Granted, I don’t run every morning anymore (I lift weights three days a week and run three days a week) and without a race to train for, I don’t have much of an incentive to run somewhere in the neighborhood of 7:00 minute miles. But 8:18 feels really slow especially when Marathon Girl (who had a baby three months ago) is already running much faster.
I think Marathon Girl just gave me plenty of incentive to pick up the pace.
January 9th, 2006
I’ve been on the new job a week now. (Kudos to those who picked up on the subtle announcement in my last post of 2005.) I’m enjoying the new job and responsibilities immensely. Though I still don’t know everyone in the office, everyone I’ve met has been friendly and very helpful.
Most people assume that when you take a new job, it’s because you were in some way unhappy with the old one. That wasn’t the case with me. I liked the job I left. I enjoyed my responsibilities and had great coworkers. The company was growing rapidly, provided good benefits, and treated their employees relatively well. I made enough money to provide for our family and allow Marathon Girl to stay home with the kids. Many I have talked to have a hard time understanding why I’d want to leave an ideal job and work environment and try a different one.
Over the last few months I came to the realization that there was little left for me to learn at my old job. I had been with the company nearly six years and had learned just about everything I could at my current position. With the new job I saw an opportunity to further develop my current skills and learn new ones.
Second, I came to the conclusion that the new job would allow me to help and influence more people. I was presented with a unique opportunity to use my skills in a way that I believe will be a force for good in the world.
After a week on the new job, both of these have turned out to be true.
I’m already looking forward to next week.
(Anyone wondering exactly what I’m doing, be patient. I’ll have more on my new job later.)
January 6th, 2006
One of my favorite activities is going to movies. I love eating big tub of buttery popcorn and watching a movie on the big screen. Before kids arrived, this is something Marathon Girl and I did quite often. But since the arrival of our two kids, our movie theatre time has been cut dramatically. (This isn’t a complaint. I’m simply stating the facts.) To get our movie fix, I make a weekly trek to the local Hollywood Video to find something Marathon Girl and I can watch on the weekends.
The one advantage that renting movies has is that through word of mouth, you can have a good idea which movies are worth renting and which ones aren’t. People kept telling me good things about Cinderella Man but when it became available to rent, I always passed it up. The reason for this is that I’m not a fan of boxing movies. Most of them follow the same formula: a boxer hits on hard times, catches a break, wins the big fight and lives happily ever after. (Unless you’re making the awful Million Dollar Baby in which case the movie ends when your manager helps you kill yourself.) Knowing how boxing movies tend to go, I didn’t think Cinderella Man would be worth my time.
But when I went to rent a movie for New Year’s Eve, I found my options limited. Sure, the video store had tons of movies in stock, but after walking through the store once, I realized that it was Cinderella Man or watching Dick Clark and Times Square count down to the New Year. (My other movie options were crapola flicks such as Stealth, The Cave, The Dukes of Hazzard, etc.)
Fortunately, Cinderella Man was nothing like I thought it would be. In fact, it’s not really a boxing movie at all. It’s really a story about a man who happens to be a boxer. The main story is about Jim Braddock’s (Russell Crowe) relationship to with his wife (RenÃ©e Zellweger) and children. You see real emotions from a man who is doing his best to support his family during the depression.
The writers did a good job of creating real, complex characters your actually care about. Several times when they’re showing the boxing scenes they’ll cut to family members or friends who are listening to the fight on the radio. And you don’t care that you’re missing a couple of punches because you care enough about the characters that you want to see their reactions to how the fight is going.
The boxing scenes are well filmed and you’re never left in doubt as to what actually took place during the fight. Ron Howard did an outstanding job directing it.
Cinderella Man is an excellent movie whether or not you’re a boxing fan. It’s a story of hope and love, and a couple that will do anything to make their marriage work and keep their family together no matter how difficult the circumstances.
(Watch this movie and then watch Million Dollar Baby and you’ll realize what a mistake Hollywood made awarding the later the best picture Oscar last year.)
Cinderella Man 4 stars (out of 4)
January 3rd, 2006