When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Unmasking the Phantom of the Opera

In all fairness to Gaston Leroux, I will admit that I have been quite distracted in other parts of life while trying to make my way through this novel. That may explain some of my disappointment with the story, but certainly not all of it. Once again, I will try to keep this review relatively spoiler-free. Watching the Broadway production or the recent film production will not spoil too much of the book, as they deviated quite a bit from the source material. In fact, they told a much better, more cohesive story.

I understand that the author was trying to put together a "police report" case book, which is a clever idea on the surface of things. Sadly, it falls flat. Even though Leroux attempts to switch voices from one "witness" to another, there is very little distinction between the speakers. I very quickly lost track of who was telling their side of the story. I think it would have been better to drop the premise and give the reader a single, consistent, all-knowing storyteller.

My biggest problem with the story, however, was the same issue I had with The Invisible Man. That is, the characters were not very sympathetic. Towards the end, you get the feeling that you are meant to feel some sympathy for the Opera Ghost (he is only called a phantom once) because of his pathetic past. But then he opens his mouth or does something malicious, and he becomes a sociopath. At least we learn a little about how he came to be so wretched, unlike Griffin, but the quick-change duality makes it hard to want to understand his plight. Christine Daae and Raoul de Chagney are just as bad, as characters go. In one breath either of them is declaring their love or admiration for someone and in the next moment they are expressing fear or hatred for that same person. They are extremely childish in their actions and dialogue. In fact, I had a hard time finding any characters that consistently behaved like mature, rational adults. The story seemed populated by a bunch of children pretending to be adults. Only auxiliary characters seemed to be past adolescent immaturity, yet they did not do much to control the childish characters.

Aside from two deaths, there did not seem to be much to really terrorize the characters. I, myself, never really felt a sense of dread for anyone's safety. Perhaps it was due to the use of too much meandering detail, especially in the "torture chamber" chapters. Yes, two characters were trapped in a chamber for 2.5 chapters, which dragged on with so much wandering exposition that I must admit my own mind had a hard time focusing on their plight. There were many hints laid down about the mischief and evil deeds of which the "opera ghost" was capable, yet not much was actually committed by this phantom. If he terrorized the other characters, then I had a hard time feeling it as I read the book.

The idea of the story is a good one. It has been adapted well, especially in the Broadway production, so I will give Gaston Leroux credit for laying a decent foundation for others to build upon. Overall, that's how I see The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. Perhaps if I gave it another read when I am less distracted I can appreciate it more. For now, I will give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Brevard Community College

I am incredibly grateful to the Liberal Arts Department at Brevard Community College. They were willing to take a chance on my as an adjunct instructor a little over eight years ago. I interviewed for an adjunct position in psychology a year after receiving my M.S. in I/O psychology. The department head must have seen something in me, or was desperate for instructors. Rather than hire me immediately, she gave me a sample syllabus and asked me to come up with my own for a standard General Psychology course. She called me back and offered me two classes the following spring--January 2004. The first class I ever taught was Human Development, at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning. I had a Human Adjustment course that same semester. These were both on the Melbourne campus. I had no idea what I was really doing, but I managed to wing it through my first semester. My daughter was turning 2, my husband was finishing up his M.S. in ocean engineering, and I was working on my M.B.A. Thinking back on it, I am amazed that I made it through that first semester. The following fall I got a call to teach at my alma mater, Florida Tech, in the School of Business (just after completing my M.B.A.). I also got called by the BCC Cocoa campus to teach a General Psychology course. I was teaching 4 classes, at 3 different campuses. I have managed to teach at least 1 class each year since that first semester. I don't know if I would be as confident to teach any psychology course thrown my way if BCC had not continued to offer me the opportunity to teach new subjects. I have taught general psychology I & II, human relations, human adjustment, and human development. These are all introductory courses, but not all adjuncts teach them. Most adjuncts teach one specific course (primarily general psychology) and are rarely asked to branch out beyond that. I'm a utility player, with apparently wide experience. I never thought I could be so adaptable, but Brevard Community College Liberal Arts Department gave me the opportunity that sent me on my current path.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wax Paper

Yes, this is another odd post. If you've read many of my other posts, besides those dedicated to actual people, then you know that I am quite odd. I claim my pride in that. It is my right as a mental nomad. But I digress.

Wax paper is very versatile. As a baker (amateur/hobbyist, not professional), I like it for freezing. Placing wax paper between layers of pancakes or waffles before placing them in a freezer bag keeps the food from sticking together when you freeze them. This allows you to remove them more easily to reheat. Wax paper around cookie dough makes it easier to remove from its protective plastic covering as well. I have also found that meat, especially pre-made hamburgers, does a little better when wrapped in wax paper and then plastic prior to freezing, though butcher paper or freezer paper (yes, it exists) is admittedly better for this purpose.

What I really like best about wax paper, though, is its use for sewing. Yes, I use wax paper for my sewing. I draft my commercial patterns onto wax paper before I do any cutting. Because the paper is translucent (semi see-through), it is easy to trace the correct size for the pattern piece on to the wax paper. This preserves my commercial pattern paper, which is pretty fragile. It also allows me to use the same pattern for multiple sizes without having to cut up the pattern paper or buy a new pattern for each size needed. As I have a tendency to modify patterns to fit sizes that are not available on some commercial patterns (some great costume patterns only go up to a size 20 or a size 12, but they could look good on a larger size), I can use the base pattern and some mathematical gymnastics to draft a larger size that will still have the desired look of the original. I'm actually doing this now for both myself and my daughter for our costumes for Dragon*Con 2012.

I can "Frankenstein" pattern pieces with the wax paper, too. I had to do that for my husband's Star Wars uniform. The idea for the uniform existed, but the pattern itself did not. I had to modify (i.e. draw out) both the coat and the pants from a pre-existing commercial pattern in order to create the desired effect. I even created a couple new pieces to fit onto the costume with my wax paper.  Lo and behold, my wax paper helped me draft, adjust, and even pre-size everything before I even made the first fabric cut. Besides the drafting qualities (use a permanent marker, such as a Sharpie, for best results) of the translucent material, wax paper is tougher than the cheaper tissue paper of most commercial patterns. I can reuse my wax paper patterns, all marked up with notations and sizing information, at least twice as many times as my commercial tissue paper patterns before I get irreparable tears. Folding the wax paper is easier, too, and it does well when rolled up for storage. If the garment pieces are wider than the wax paper, then I simply tape another piece next to it. Standard Scotch tape will hold the wax paper pieces together. The tape can also be repositioned on the wax paper without damaging it.

One of the best things about wax paper: it's price. If I want to make a garment or costume from a pattern more than once, I would usually have to shell out the cash for another copy of the pattern (averaging at least $10 per pattern, sometimes much more, unless I find a sale) because the tissue paper does not last through the folding and handling necessary when I have to move a project or put it aside to clear space or work on something else. On the other hand, I can draft a number of garment patterns onto a single roll of wax paper for under $3 and the paper usually survives my rougher handling, so I sometimes don't have to re-draft anything any way; I can reuse my first drafts.

Wax paper. It's definitely worth my investment. I probably would not sew nearly as much as I do if I did not figure out how to adapt it to my purposes.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Safety Pins

Oh, those tiny metal objects that are so much under-appreciated! Yes, I am writing a blog post about the common safety pin. Aside from paperclips, I find it hard to think of a small object that is so versatile and yet so glossed over by many.

As a sewing hobbyist (I don't make money from it, so I'm reluctant to call myself a "seamstress"), I use my safety pins to pre-sew items. This helps me figure out complex instructions without wasting thread or damaging the fabric too much and helps in making sure the clothes fit the wearer correctly before I get too far with stitching. I also use the safety pin as a stitch remover in a pinch. The pointed tip is often sharper than my usual stitch remover, so it's easier to fit it under tighter stitches. I have used safety pins as emergency buttons (I bet you know many a mom or costumer who has done the same!) and as an emergency seam until I could get to a needle & thread. Last year my daughter used many safety pins to make wearable pins as part of Michael's Passport to Fun summer program. Do you remember making a pin "brooch" in school, perhaps for St. Patrick's Day or Mother's Day? I tend to use a safety pin or two to hold patches in place before I can sew them down. I also use safety pins to hold down the  parts of clothes where a closure--button, hook & eye, zipper, etc.--will go in order to line everything up before I secure all the pieces. I even recently used a safety pin to fix my umbrella. One of the grommets that formed a joint fell out, so I slipped a safety pin into the holes and voila! a fully functioning umbrella once more. The main advantage of a safety pin over a straight pin, and thus the word "safety" in the name, is the fact that the sharp end is covered in the enclosure. I don't worry as much about folding up an in-progress sewing project with safety pins because no one will get pricked while moving it. And, unless I forget to close them, I'm not as worried about the damage that might be caused by a safety pin lying around.

I'm sure many people have used safety pins for many other things. These are just the few I remembered from more recent experiences. I would love to hear what others have done!