hello new year

2009 is over. Crazy.

Here at the Latkin’s things were good. Life continues to be unburdened.

Looking forward to a new decade is strange. I can’t believe it has been almost 10 years since Linda died. I remember thinking, at some point she will be dead for a year, then five, and then, now, 10 years. Her passing has made me try to stay on top of living an intentional life, with that bit of knowledge that we are not here forever always bumbling around back there in my mind. I want to keep an accounting of what we spend.

To that end, I am finally 90 pages into my book! And starting in two days, we will begin the “Year of Making Do.” That means we are not going to go shopping for anything other than food, unless we really need it. How will we define really need? We will write it down and ponder it for two weeks, then make a decision.

Please share your New Year’s plans in the comments.


book review: life of pi

by Yann Martel
(Not the book cover, because I thought the cover sucked.)

When was the last time you longed for a book to be real, true? A novel? The Life of Pi came out in 2001, and I kind of knew it was a book I was supposed to read. But I did not like the cover and could not figure out how a boy, a tiger, and 3.141… were supposed to all figure together.

So just this week I finally got around to reading the book. What a fun read, and insightful. One quote on the back cover said the book would make you believe in god. That’s what sealed the deal for me. Any book that could do that was worth reading.

The plot: a boy, his family, and their literal zoo of animals set sail from India on their way to Canada. The boat sinks. Boy lives, with said tiger, on a life raft. For 227 days! (Note 22/7 = π) Needless to say, it is an adventure.

There were a few quotes in the book that I really enjoyed:

On supporting the arts:
“If we, citizens, do not support our artist, then we sacrifice our imagination on the alter of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.”

This really sums up the book, in more ways than one: create your own reality.

The boy, Pi, decides to become a Christian, Muslim, and Hindu. While defending this choice to people who think that this is wrong, and spew anger he says:

These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended,
not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the
open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good
is not the open ground of the public arena, but the small clearing of each heart.
Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their
defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.

Well said.

After finally reading the book, I would heartily encourage you to do so as well.

drum roll: the new name


That's it. Yep. We did it. I will eventually change the banner, but until then, when you go to writersdesk.com it will pop you out at schreibtischdc.com.

Hope everyone likes it. Test it out. Let me know if you have any problems.


changes coming?

Hello loyal readers. We are contemplating some big changes here at schreibtischdc...namely, well, changing the name of the blog...or at least setting up an easier to remember website...something, ahm, in English.

Getting back into the grove slowly...had a wonderful time in Portland. Pictures to come.


stop motion video of the blizzard

The music is by The Swell Season and called Falling Slowly. I thought that went with the theme, and I love the music.

book review: everything ravaged, everything burned*

* This is Brent's review, with a note from me at the bottom. He thinks the book will be too upsetting for me...so I am not going to read it.

by Wells Tower

First off, I borrowed this book from the library and I have to say that Nicole and I are loving our re-discovery of the library. Free books! And it’s perfectly legal! (Do the publishers know about this?)

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is a collection of short stories that has been hailed as a masterwork that will return the short story form from exile. I’m not so sure. The first four stories are about men who are, well, losers. These stories are well-written and satisfying in a thank-goodness-that’s-not-me-but-maybe-there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I kind of way. And they do “rescue” the short story in that they tend not to leave you wanting more. 15-20 pages of these guys and you pretty much get where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going. The stories are interesting and entertaining, but no one needs more than a vignette of these fellows.

The first four stories are so similar that my hunch is that most reviewers stopped reading and assumed that the rest of the book followed the pattern, because Tower is hailed as a writer of men’s stories. But Tower doesn’t just stick to these men. The middle stories are about kids, including one narrated by, gasp, a girl. These stories are somehow less satisfying. For example, divorce is a constant theme in the book, but a divorced man is different from a child of divorce. The guy is going to be lonely and regretful. But the kid are dealing with all kinds of stuff about whether Mom and Dad still love them and how to deal with Stepmom or Stepdad. We get a snapshot of a particular kid at a particular time but it’s not enough to fill in the arc of the kid’s life. And so, like many an American, I’m left wanting more of the story. I don’t need a happy ending but I need and ending.

The last couple of stories get gruesome in parts – the title story is about Vikings – and just left me feeling queasy. All very realistic stuff I suppose, but I feel like this book was enough of that sort of thing for me. Tower’s a very good writer but I hope he’s got more tricks up his sleeve.

A note from Nicole: The cover of this book is so similar to the cover of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that I had to find out more about the time line of publishing. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was published by Alfred A. Knopf in the US on September 16, 2008. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, on March 17, 2009. I suppose then, that ER,EB copied TGWTDT, but who knows really. Kind of interesting.


as snow descends on DC, a note about handwashing

On some day this week I was at an interview with EPA. The woman we were speaking to said that using antibacterial hand-soap was not only bad for the environment, killing and harming the environment from the moment you wash it down the sink, but it also does not clean your hands effectively.

WHAT? No one ever told me that. Who knew? Washing your hands with antibacterial hand-soap does not get your hands clean because we don't wash our hands for long enough in America. (You really need to sing either Happy Birthday the whole way through, or your A, B, C's to get them really clean.) Therefore, some of the antibacterial residue is left on your hands. You might eat some of it, or inhale it, or it might even attract more bacteria to your hands.

Read more about this topic in Scientific American by clicking this sentence. In the mean time, stick with soap and water.


great questions

Since everyone is heading home, to spend time with family or friends who are like family, I thought now might be a good time to post about StoryCorps.

"StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening. Since 2003, more than 50,000 Americans have interviewed family and friends through StoryCorps, making it one of the largest oral history projects of its kind."

For those of you who have not heard the stories on NPR, I am telling you to click this link and go listen NOW! For the rest of you, I hope you will take the questions below home with you and try some of them out...I would love to hear the new stories you hear because of the questions.

Great Questions

Who was the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?

What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?

Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did they teach you?

Who has been the kindest to you in your life?

What are the most important lessons you've learned in life?

What is your earliest memory?

What is your favorite memory of me?

If you could hold on to one memory from your life for eternity, what would that be?

If this was to be our very last conversation, what words of wisdom would you want to pass on to me? (or more simply: Are there any words of wisdom you'd like to pass along to me?)

Have you had any experiences or moments in your life that you might consider sacred?

What are you proudest of in your life?

When in life have you felt most alone?

What are your hopes and dreams for what the future holds for me? For my children?

How has your life been different than what you'd imagined?

How would you like to be remembered?

Do you have any regrets?

What does your future hold?

Is there anything that you've never told me but want to tell me now?

Is there something about me that you've always wanted to know but have never asked?

Click this sentence to find more ideas for questions.


movie: sita sings the blues

This movie is so much fun...and it is free. The woman who wrote it made it without a copyright, which I think is so much fun. In the creator's words:

"I hereby give Sita Sings the Blues to you. Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show Sita Sings the Blues. From the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes.

"You don't need my permission to copy, share, publish, archive, show, sell, broadcast, or remix Sita Sings the Blues. Conventional wisdom urges me to demand payment for every use of the film, but then how would people without money get to see it? How widely would the film be disseminated if it were limited by permission and fees? Control offers a false sense of security. The only real security I have is trusting you, trusting culture, and trusting freedom.

"That said, my colleagues and I will enforce the Share Alike License. You are not free to copy-restrict ("copyright") or attach Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) to Sita Sings the Blues or its derivative works."

We are planning on watching the whole movie soon! To read more about the movie, click this sentence.


indecent cookies

from my friend Marika's cookie party. nicely done.


book review: the boys of my youth

By Jo Ann Beard

Everyone loves this book. No one writes bad reviews of this book. The Boys of My Youth is Jo Ann Beard’s only book to date. Everyone is right. The book is amazing, but I am going to tell you what I did not like about the book.

Beard’s descriptions of childhood are just too well done. While reading them, memories of your own childhood bubble up. And not just the good memories, but also the memories that sting, the memories you thought were gone.

And really, as you are reading the book, she flits around in time. You really don’t have any idea what she is doing, until your bathwater is past its prime temperature, and you are still in the water trying to finish the book. You read that last line and it all comes together: this is a book about the end of her youth. You get it finally. She has described for you what growing up means, as though you have never done it.

Finally, I really don’t like the cover. I suppose it is a photo of a child’s bed. I would have done something different, but the different idea is not coming to me.

The book was published in 1998 and I must say, she needs to publish another book. I mean really people.


book review: born standing up

By Steve Martin

The book tells beginning, middle, and self-imposed end of Steve Martin’s stand up comedian career. He explains his theories, and thoughts, and all of the crazy reasons he is funny.

The only thing I did not like about this memoir was that the title was totally wrong. The title implies that Steve Martin was always as funny as he is, and that it took no effort. Anyone who reads this book will understand the craft and hard work that went into his stand-up routine.

At 207 pages, the memoir is a quick read. He only glances over his family and past relationships. We do learn, towards the end, about how violated he felt by this fame, and why he has become a very private person.

The pictures included in the book are great fun. And I think sometimes he is letting the close reader in on a few jokes. In one section of the book, he describes meeting a fellow comic after having watched his show. The other comic recycled some material from a more famous comic, something Martin strongly eschewed. Neither comic talked about it then, and Martin refrained from using the comic’s name in text. But, then, the companion image plainly states that Steve Goodman was the comic. Funny.

Go out and read this book. What an interesting look on history, and boy, are they’re a ton of really great one liner’s. From Elvis calling him obliquely funny, to Linda Ronstadt asking him, “Steve, do you often date girls and try not to sleep with them?” you really can’t miss with this book.


this american life: my professor

So, Brent and I get into the car at 12:07 in DC today, and on "This American Life" is a woman talking about her book about her father's murder. Brent keeps chatting, and I shush him.

Brent asks, "What?"

"Brent I think that's my writing professor..."

Sure enough it was her. How fun! Well the topic is not fun, but that she was on one of my favorite shows is fun.

Here is a link to Rachel Howard on the radio:
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/. You can hear her voice on the introduction.

She wrote a book, The Lost Night, about what happened to her father that is next to my bed, and I have started reading it, but got sidetracked by something else.(To see book at Amazon, click this sentence.) What I have read is gripping.


octopus using tools

You have to go to the link:

"The Veined Octopus, Amphioctopus marginatus, using coconut shells as tools. Video shot in Indonesia by Julian Finn between 1998 and 2008."

I would never eat one, but even if I did like seafood, squid and octopi are so smart, I couldn't do it.


a house

We all know I desperately want a house right? Oh, wait, I don't want a house. I like renting. I like calling someone else and spending someone else's money when something breaks...but I love to decorate.* In fact, I wanted to be an interior designer when I was a child.

So I am following with glee this blog, Keeping Up With the Johnsons at the Readymade website. They bought a house in northern California and are redoing it.

I like their style, sometimes. The times where they go all modern, I love it...but sometimes it is horrible. They painted a wall all green. And their art, well, I don't have to live there!

They have put up some really neat instructions for fixing things or redoing things. And they have an awesome clam-shaped bed from the 70's with a built in stereo!

Take a look. Some fun stuff there.

* See post of photo shoot of our apartment for confirmation.


book review: an unquiet mind

By Kay Redfield Jamison

I am pretty sure someone in my writing class recommended this book. And since I have recently re-discovered the library, I got it there.

The book chronicles the author’s life as a closet manic-depressive, aptly showing the reader how it would feel to have this illness. You really feel the euphoria of the manic phase; times when she needn’t sleep, can write papers in a day, and generally gets shit done with great speed. And then the panic when she feels herself slipping in to the depressive phase; where she can’t do anything. Not even get out of bed.

You also learn how she tries to hide her illness. She tells her lovers haltingly, concerned about who they will respond, if they will decide to no longer love her.

And to top things off, the author is a Professor of Psychology. So she knows that the data all say the same thing: take your drugs or risk killing yourself. She tried on occasion, but failed.

In one poignant scene, she tells of the realization that she haden’t a clue about what it would be to be blind. Her student of some time, she met the blind student in the blind reading room one day. Naturally, the lights were all off, but he thought to turn the lights on for her.

“It was one of those still, clear moments when you realize that you haven’t understood anything at all, that you have had no real comprehension of the other person’s world.”

I would highly recommend this book to anyone trying to understand manic-depression, and its cycles and its tolls.

book review: the messengers of death

by Pierre Magnan

A retired inspector is brought out of retirement to help the local Judge figure out what happened as people start dropping like flies. They all receive a letter in the mail that says one thing: The measure that you give will be the measure that you get. Avarice. This French book covers the topic of avarice with abandon. I did not know what the word meant when I first started reading. Just in case you don’t know: greed. The book explores the greed of towns, ideas, histories, and most of all people.

The mystery takes place in Provence, at the base of the Alps. The descriptions of the regions are at odds with that well-known American book about Provence, A Year in Provence. It sounds cold and desolate and someplace I don’t want to visit for any amount of time.

I enjoyed the book, as I am enjoying translated works a lot recently. But I felt a little set apart from the characters. I had a hard time identifying with them. And while many footnotes helped the foreign reader understand cultural references that would be lost without these footnotes, I felt like I still missed a lot of references. In any event I feel like I learned a bit, and while the book might not be something I would normally read, I enjoyed it.



gingerbread party

The party was a smashing success, even though it was snowing outside. :)

Good times. Click here to see pictures!

french video



We were at a meeting today, and someone brought up nanobacterium. I had never heard of such a thing. It is what it sounds like: nanosized bacteria. No one knows if they are 1. alive, 2. contain DNA, 3. what they are really.

Apparently they have been found in meteorites from outer space, and in many minerals all over the world. Wikipedia has some great information on nanobacterium, and it is all kind of mind blowing.

Just take this one quote from a recent article on nanobacterium:
"Recent evidence suggests a role for nanobacteria in a growing number of human diseases, including renal stone formation, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer."

I am now wondering if nanobacterium can only eat nanosized particles? Anyway, chew on this.



forget viral, it's pandemic

super cute.



PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death and God from Frank Warren on Vimeo.

wanna share any secrets?

i feel less valuable because my dad left me too, when he divorced linda. but i don't miss him any less.