Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tough Chicks in Tight Bodysuits

After viewing "UltraViolet" and "Underworld: Evolution" I'm beginning to believe that it is impossible for a woman to be a superhero, tough, or even ferocious unless she's been poured into a lycra or leather 'catsuit' and donned thigh-high sh*t-kicking boots to accent her lean profile. And of course, you must either have black hair that is unwashed and stringy, or a neon purple/pink wig to make you seem mysterious. Personally, I think Kate Beckinsale is a better actress than Mila Janovich, and that is why I was saddened to see that she allowed the powers that be in the second Underworld movie to have her nude in a love scene with the horrible actor who plays the Lycan/Vampire hybrid male protagonist. Honestly, the man is supposed to be a resident physician, and he acts like he's got all of three brain cells that work (in addition to his plumbing, of course, which might be the reason Beckinsales character fancies him...a good roll in the hay goes a long way when you're a lonely death dealer, I suppose). Mila looks lovely in UltraViolet, which is a very violent, stylish movie that has gorgeous sets, fast action, gorgeous costumes, props and even sleek weaponry. It's like watching a cleanly-drawn Japanese SF graphic novel come to life. The story is one of fear and bravery, of self-sacrifice and love of innocence and children who are different. Yet there's a violent battle scene every 5-10 minutes in the movie, and while I like watching the choreography of a good martial arts/swords/guns scene as much as the next person, I can't really fathom how the folks that made this movie justified having so little time for plot and character development.
My husband, meanwhile, was disappointed in the lack of "boob shots" to be found in either movie, since he was particularly hoping Beckinsale would bare all. Yet she was covered up by that huge plank of a co-star, who even seemed somewhat slow and unsteady while on top of his favorite Vampire. This makes her grief, when he "dies" later in the movie, seem ludicrous, as you can't imagine the glorious, brilliant and vitally viscious Selene actually caring whether the fumbling, idiotic hybrid lives or dies. My husband and I were both relieved when he bought it, and disgusted when he was "reborn," again. They must have paid the honorable Derek Jacobi millions to appear as the progenetor Alexander Corvinus in this flick. He does his usual excellent job of taking what could have been a cartoonish character and turning it into a dignified, pained and ultimately heroic Vamp/Lycan. I only wish they'd have given him more screen time, and more scenes with Selene. The next SF feature hubby and I want to watch is V for Vendetta, which is coming out on DVD next week.
I also watched "Casanova" the latest version with the delicious Heath Ledger and an unknown co-star who isn't even as pretty as Ledger, sad to say. I became a fan of Ledger when he was the luscious leather-trousered lad in "Roar" which died before it had a chance to find its folkie/celtic-loving audience. Ledger was just drool-inspiring in Roar, and all the other movies I've seen him in haven't taken from that image of the gorgeous fair-haired guy with a mischevious twinkle in his eyes that can weaken your knees, even at my age. And no, I've not seen Brokeback Mountain, though I could easily understand anybody, man or woman, finding Ledger toothsome. (Anne Proloux, the author of Brokeback Mountain, is one of the worst authors ever to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, in my opinion. I refuse to read anything she's written). So I watched with interest as the fair-haired lad of the past was portrayed as a greasy, filthy lecherous man who couldn't keep his pants on for more than a few hours. He seemed to be constantly bathed in sweat during this film, and the wigs they made him wear were just frightening. Jeremy Irons was way over the top as an inquisitor set to hang Casanova, but the real purple heart for turning acting lemons into lemonade in this film goes to Oliver Platt, as the pork lard king of Genoa and the marvelous actress who plays his paramour. They stole every scene they were in, which was a blessing and a relief from watching Ledger sweat and flail and run from everyone. I would only recommend this film if you are really in need of a Ledger fix, and can imagine him cleaned up a bit. As to the tough chick flicks, I'd wait until you can rent them two for one, or until they're in the discount bin.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Disappointment with Two Writing Divas

Gentlemen and Players, the latest novel by the formerly faultless Joanne Harris, and The Last Mortal Man by the brilliant Syne Mitchell are my two latest reads, and currently in a long line of books that disappoint me with their lack of morality.
Let me just first attest to my adoration of Harris's previous works. Chocolat, a perfect confection of a novel was the first book of hers that I read, and relished. I followed it with the fascinating Blackberry Wine, then the passionate and riveting Holy Fools, the mesmerizing Five Quarters of the Orange and the cool Coastliners. I added Harris to the short list of authors whom I'd read anytime, anywhere, any book. Her prose was always rich and fertile, her characters emotional, fully dimensional and her plots tight and brisk. There was little to complain about and much to praise in her work. Unfortunately, Gentlemen and Players breaks that wining streak by showing us a closed and sexist world populated by awful people who seem selfish, ugly and without decency or morals. The main character is a serial killer who never gets caught and indeed, seems to be sympathized with, lauded and not even sought by the police. Considering the main character kills a child, I found that hard to believe. I knew the secret plot twist before I was halfway through the book, which is saying something about the quality of Harris prose, since most authors telegraph their plot twists so clearly that I usually know it by chapter two. Perhaps this is Harris's bitterness toward her English heritage that allows her to flay the world of private boys schools with such a bitter lash. Most of her other novels are set in France, and the French always come off as quirky, but loveable and interesting, rarely crass, vile and cruel as all the Brits are portrayed in this book. Sick obession and a sociopath are not a thrilling combination for those who like being enlightened, entertained, uplifted and informated by the fiction that they read. As I am one of those people, I felt ill and sad by the end of the book, which could have come much sooner for my taste. And please, Ms Harris, don't do an Umberto Ecco and leave all your Latin untranslated. I hate that.
I have read all of Syne Mitchells Science Fiction novels, too, and loved them all for their blending of hard SF and great characters with action-oriented plots. Syne takes on all the latest tech topics and moves them into the future with true "What If" style, and makes the reader see the problems inherent in embracing technology to the nth degree. I loved Technogenisis, Murphys Gambit, The Changeling Plague and End in Fire. In her latest book, The Last Mortal Man, Syne takes on nanotechnology, and extrapolates it to the end, in which it is used to cure mortality, but only for the wealthy. And, as usual, the rich are always the bad guys. I once asked Syne why she seems to have it out for the wealthy, and she replied, "Because I am not one of them." I find that to be a bit glib for someone whose books hang in billionare Paul Allens Science Fiction Museum in Seattle. She's on the board of the SF Museum so I would assume she has even met Mr Allen. I wonder if she discusses her prejudice with him? I am not wealthy, either, but I certainly don't pre-judge people based on their income. It rather rankles, then, that her main character, Jack is a wealthy scion of the man who has the patent on immortality, and we are supposed to like him, though he is a sexist jerk. He spends most of the book drooling impotently over the other main character, Alexa, who helped to raise him (EWWWWW! Oedipus complex, anyone?) and in the end, all he seems to want to do is dominate her by showing her that now that he's rich, he's "boss" and can run her life. Fortunately, Alexa gets out from under his thumb in short order, yet she seems to have become sexless as well as deathless. And Syne, who has a toddler and should know better, kills off all the children that were supposed to be saved by our heros, Alexa and Jack. Instead they are mowed down by some horrible wealthy psychopath who seems to have it out for Alexa, and wants to see her dead or humiliated, or both. Why the sudden "kill the innocents" darkness runs through this latest book, I don't know, but I find myself worried about Synes state of mind, if she thinks the male protagonist is supposed to be a sympathetic character, plus allowing the children to die for no reason. The morality there is just lame. Syne uses Mennonites as the characters on the opposite side of technology, but because my grandparents lived, worked and bartered with the Mennonites and Amish near Wellman, Kologna and Iowa City, I found these characters to be two-dimensional. These groups were, by turns, less kind and more repressed than she shows us, at least in the 70s and 80s, when I encountered them. There was a rather large problem with incest in the Amish communities, and a problem with un-vaccinated children getting diseases thought to be long vanquished, such as polio. Yet for all the problems this book has, it was an interesting read, and Syne explains her tech stuff better than she has in previous novels. It has a lot of important things to say about death, living a life worth living, and taking care of others as your lifes work. I can only hope that the cover of the next book in the series gives us a glimpse of the perfect woman, Alexa from New Orleans, who parlays her terrorist act into the job of a lifetime.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Four Movies and a Visit From Misty and Larry

Bed and Breakfast, Autumn in New York, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Oscar and Lucinda. Four movies viewed this week, and all fascinating in their own way.
Let me first state that I'm not a huge Roger Moore fan, nor am I a fan of Richard Gere. Both men seem to be slightly effeminate womanizers, the kind of smooth, cultured snobs who age gracefully and look gorgeous well into their 70s, despite dissipating habits. However, I couldn't have liked Moore better in the charming and surprisingly deep Bed and Breakfast. Talia Shire plays a Bed and Breakfast owner in Maine, who lives with her mother, the incomparable Colleen Dewhurst, and her troubled teenage daughter, an actress I've never heard of who looks to be a fine violinist. Moore is a rapscallion on the lamb from his latest bout of trouble, who washes up on the beach in front of Shires B&B. Of course, the three lonely women all fall for him in a different way, and he wisely counsels them to follow their dreams. Mayhem ensues in various forms, from the jealous townsfolk to the arrival of thugs looking for Moore, but it all works out in the end, and there are some very tender, lovely scenes delineating the relationship that builds between Moore and the widow Shire, who is very guarded. Interesting moments develop in the mother-daughter relationships as well, and the viewer gets to see the inner workings of the family.
Autumn in New York is a tragic love story, filled with moments in which the luminous, young Winona Ryder teaches the jaded, aged p-hound Gere about what it means to love someone, to commit to that love, and respect it though you know it will end soon. Gere even has a couple of moments of actual acting, where his grief is so naked and his pain so real, I felt it wash over me as well. Because there are such great moments, you can ignore much of the other bits that don't read so realistically. The fact that Gere is supposed to be a restauranteur who believes that "food is the only beauty that nourishes the body" didn't bother me as much as his attempts to appear like he could really cook, long greasy gray hair falling in the food and all. Still, the movie ends with Gere taking responsibility for a daughter he'd ignored, and that left us with the clear message of life moving forward, despite beloved people leaving us behind.
Oscar and Lucinda is also a somewhat tragic love story, of an Anglican priest (the amazing Ralph Fiennes) whose gambling compulsion leads him to team up with a gambling-obessed glass-factory owner, (the camelion-like Cate Blanchett) to create a glass church for another Anglican priest in the wilds of New South Wales. Blanchett and Fiennes are magical when on the screen together, as riveting and vulnerably beautiful as the glass church they seek to create and move across the country. I have to say that I have never seen Fiennes in a role in which he didn't terrify me, on some level, with his intensity. But there's a lure, an attraction to that fear that is like walking outside in a lightening storm in Florida. You know you might get hit with a bolt of ligtening and fry, but you can't help yourself from watching the flashes play across the sky. He was an innocent, shy, brave and skinny man in this movie, not really all that attractive, yet you couldn't take your eyes off the man when he was on the screen. My heart was pounding when he merely brushed his lips across Blanchetts. The fervent way he prayed, the way in which he killed a man with a look on his face like a little boy about to squish some fearful bug, THAT was acting in the true sense, acting as an art form.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starred my 13-year-old crush, Donny Osmond, who, along with David Cassidy and, to a lesser extent (because he was older) Bobby Sherman, occupied the minds and hearts of 3/4 of the preteens and young teens of the 1970s. I wore purple socks because Donny did. I hated Marie with a passion, because she was always upstaging Donny and making fun of him on their show. I played his records until my brother was forced to hide the album because he was deathly sick of hearing Donnys voice singing treacly pop tunes. Now, Donny is probably 50 years old, and yet he's one buff and handsome Joseph, singing in full voice all the wonderful Andrew Lloyd Weber tunes penned for this light and zippy take on the story of Joseph, son of Jacob, from the Bible. The woman playing the narrator, though very mobile of face and robust of voice, got on my nerves by the end of the musical. She was a distraction from the characters, a kind of deus ex machina, that I felt didn't need to be in every single song and scene. To be frank, I wanted to see more of Donny. I found myself wondering what was up with Marie, and his older brothers who are deaf. What about little pudge-ball Jimmy, who was also very annoying, but whom I could understand, as I had an annoying younger brother, too. Anyway, the story is basically the age-old one of jealous brothers who sell Joseph, the favored son of 12, into slavery and eventually have to ask him for help when Joseph becomes the Pharoh's right hand. Having the Pharoh be an Elvis impersonator was a stroke of genius, by the way. If you can get past the cheezy 70s disco song and the bizarre props and carefully-placed loincloth Donny wears, you'll find a charming and fun musical under it all. The ending was silly, but then, Weber isn't known for his great endings. Why they chose to place the story initially in a British school assembly is still not clear to me, but I chose to just ignore the incongruity and enjoy the funky set design.
Speaking of design, I was fortunate enough to attend the annual visitation by the talented Mercedes Lackey and her handsome, charming husband Larry Dixon. These two are amazing authors, and Dixon's illustrations are top-notch. He passed around a computer tablet with a slide show of his latest work, illustrations of Lackeys books and of Star Trek ships. They were breathtaking, each one so detailed and dimensional that you could almost swear some were photos. Mercedes, or Misty as she prefers, was in full voice, telling about her latest book projects and her predilection for role-playing games and creating stories around characters in those games. The audience all found it as ironic as she does that her way of relaxing from writing all day is to write some more in a gaming setting. Larry Dixon, meanwhile, does not age. The man must have a painting in an attic somewhere aging for him. And I was thoroughly charmed by his mature and generous attitude toward his fans and friends, even after an apparently horrendous difficulty with a stalker and an accident that broke his arm.
Most people wouldn't have the guts to tour the country and talk to fans after an incident like that, but Misty and Larry are made of sterner, and kinder, stuff. They related anecdotes about their time on the set of the Lord of the Rings in New Zealand, their work helping rescue birds of prey, and of the new books they have coming out this year and next. I was particularly pleased to hear that the Elementals series continues on, though I wish I would have gotten the chance to ask Misty why fire mages get such short shrift in her novels. Does she have something agin us fabulous fire signs, perhaps? At any rate, I bought a copy of a moon-themed book in which Misty has the lead story, and I got all my other books signed. I also managed to give Larry and Misty some decent pens for signing, so they didn't have to use the cheap ones the library set out for them. I sincerely hope they return next year, so I can have the opportunity to chat with them for a longer period, and hear of their latest adventures.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Country Affair

A Country Affair by Rebecca Shaw is one of those books that makes me wonder how people who can't write get published. Honestly, this was one of the most cliche-ridden, cardboard-characterized, thinly-plotted novels I've ever read, and it appears to be part of a series (insert gasp of horror here).
There's the fair young maiden, perky and British, the loutish boyfriend who turns out to be a rapist, stalker and psychopath with a nutso mother ala Norman Bates. But of course, because this is such a flimsy piece of work, the lout only needs a good job and a stern talking to, and a help from another sociopathic nutball over lunch, and suddenly, he's okay! What a miracle! No need for drugs or therapy, just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and move away from mum, eh?! Of course, there's a somewhat loutish Australian who becomes boyfriend number two, only to abandon our heroine because he's a callous lout, as evinced by his inability to deal with his one-night-stands pregnancy and convenient miscarriage. Reading this book was like watching a soap opera from the 60s or 70s...lots of stereotypical characters doing what they always do, and coming out of the drama as they are supposed to, either clean and free of trouble or completely out of the picture in another state, or prison, or in a graveyard. Ridiculous dialogue abounds, and our heroine finally decides to do what is "best" and go back to school to be a veterinarian. Considering that her coworkers are all about as dim as a two-watt bulb, its no surprise that she needs a tutor to get through the tough subjects.
I can only hope that this author gets discouraged by writing this simplistic tripe and gets a writing tutor for herself.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Stinker and a Sweetie

I've just finished a sweet novel called "Multiple Choice" by Claire Cook. Cook is the author of the fun novel (and delightful movie) "Must Love Dogs." I really needed something this upbeat and fun to wash the awful taste of "Mr Muo's Traveling Couch" out of my mind. The author, Dai Siji (I am certain I'm not spelling that right) had written the funny, offbeat "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" and caught me off guard with the pervading odor of whimsey in that novel, which is about communist re- education camps in China during the 1970s. I figured that the author would continue in this whimsical vein in "Mr Muo..." but I was horribly disappointed. The main character is a spineless, stupid, sexist lunatic who has nothing to recommend him except his bizarre fixation on Freudian psychology. We are introduced to a local magistrate who is a former executioner and a psychopath, and an embalmer who is deflowered by Muo, only to be abandoned by him because she's served her purpose, that of a sex partner. A vain man who admits he's ugly, Muo nevertheless believes that the answer to all the worlds problems is sex. As a virgin, he seeks sex with a woman to prove his virility, and has the nerve to seek another virgin to give to the slimy magistrate, so that he can obtain the release of his beloved "Volcano of the Moon" from prison. He never does, however, obtain that release, and we are subjected to grotesque descrptions of filth, ugly people doing ugly things, and Chairman Maos doctors description of why he refused to bathe his genitals (He claimed to have "washed them in the bodies of many women." EWWW.
So it was with great pleasure that I read of the mother-daughter relationship of March and Olivia, and March's relationship with her husband and son. There's a radio show involved that is very realistic to what weekend radio shows are really like, and much of Marches life is similar to mine, so I could relate to that, too.
So avoid the summer stinker and go for the sweet book by Cook.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

An Ocean In Iowa by Peter Hedges and other books

Hello fellow bibliophiles! I haven't written a review for awhile because my husband's Dell went belly up last month when he installed a beta version of Microsofts new operating system, Vista. My ancient strawberry iMac refuses to open 99 percent of the web sites out there, so I've had to await hubby getting his old HP up and running again.
Meanwhile, though, I've been reading a number of fascinating books.
The first is a book by a former neighbor of mine, Peter Hedges. I lived in West Des Moines, Iowa, from 1966 through 1969, on Elm Street and on 23rd street, one door down from the Hedges family. My father was working as a negotiator for the Iowa State Education Association and my mother worked part time as a nurse at Iowa Lutheran Hospital in Des Moines, so we weren't what you'd call wealthy, yet we moved into a neighborhood surrounded by families that had tons of money, and tons of problems. Peter Hedges father Bob was an Episcopal priest, a huge and intimidating figure that I recall even the adults fearing. Peter's mother Carol was a visual artist and a raging alcoholic who had to be rescued from her studio when she was too drunk to drive or was choking on her own vomit. Peter had an older sister, Mary, and two younger brothers, Joel and Philip. I had an older brother, Phil, and a younger brother, Kevin. Peter played with my older brother on occaision, as did Joel, but I think Philip was too young to join them. Across the street were the Boltons, and Liz Bolton's husband was, I recall, in the military (my mother remembers him as a lawyer) and he'd come home and beat the tar out of his son Tommy, with a belt, and his daughter Crissy, who was about 5 years old. The father had an affair with his secretary, and came home one day to tell Liz he wanted a divorce. Liz freaked out and got into astrology and started dressing like a gypsy, and seemed to be unable to care for her children, who had to eat whatever they could find in the frig, which was usually raw hot dogs. They had several collies, and when the collies had puppies, Liz ran over them with the car and killed them, then stuck them in the freezer to "preserve their beauty." Her huge mansion-like house was ankle-deep in dog hair and feces, and her daughter became a regular fixture at our house to "taste test" our food (because she never got a decent meal at home) and to be bathed and put in clean clothing by my mother, who felt sorry for the Bolton kids. Next door to them were Jim and Tom Curry, who also had an older sister. Few people wanted to play with the Curry boys because Jim Curry (I think it was Jim, it might have been Tom) was born without ribs on one side of his body, so when he went without a shirt in the summer, he looked freaky. But my older brother got along well with the Curry brothers and played with them all the time. The Hickey family lived down the street, and had a boy my younger brothers age that he played with, and the Cutler girls lived up the street, both tall, thin blondes who wanted to be models and had eating disorders. Next door to us on the other side was the Bogus (pronouced Baw-gus) family, who hated my dad because Mr Bogus lost the negotiating job at ISEA to him. They had a horrible yippy little dog that I used to fear would get through the fence and bite. The Silversteins also lived up the street, and my mother was called upon to try and save Mrs Silverstein from suicide, as Mrs Silverstein was a bit of a nutcase as well. There was some kid, and I don't recall who, who had a train set in his basement, a weight bench and shag carpeting in this room that had been set up just for him. I cannot remember his name, but I do recall seeing the room and feeling very uncomfortable there. I also attended Clover Hills Elementary School while living in West Des Moines.
Hedges, whose Ocean in Iowa is the story of a kid named "Scotty Ocean" has used a lot of the characters from 23rd street in his book, which is supposed to be fiction, but which reads like something of a twisted autobiography. Scotty is the baby of the family, which Peter wasn't, and Scotty's father is a huge man called "The judge" after his occupation, rather than a priest, but his mother is an alcoholic who abandons her family, and her son, forever causing a wound in her youngest, Scotty. Scotty is a rather freakish child, in that he seems to be preoccupied by nudity, sexuality and crushes on his mother and the neighbors mother, whom he tries to "kiss" on her genitals when at a sleep over. I find it a bit hard to believe that a 7 year old boy thinks that much about sex, and about women his mothers age. Unless Hedges was sexually abused by his mother, I can't imagine he did think that way, especially in the late 60s, when TV was still pretty free of blatant sexual imagery. Scotty is chased down by bullies from Clover Hills Elementary (I attended that school and I do not recall there being gangs of nasty older boys on bikes trying to hurt me, but I wasn't a PK, or "preachers kid", either, and preachers kids were always the ones that got into trouble for being bad, usually for drinking, swearing or hurting other kids, so I imagine Peter was just too mouthy with the in-crowd and got himself in trouble.) and is brought into the world of an older boy whose descrption fits my older brother Phil. This older boy then seeks to molest Scottys sisters, but is only able to abuse the younger one, while filling 7 year old Scotty in on the "bases" of sex. I sincerely hope that this character was not based on my older brother, who is dead of the disease he was diagnosed with in 1969 while we lived on 23rd street: diabetes. Though my brother Phil did a number of horrible things in his life, I'd like to think he didn't start down that dark path until he was 15 and we were living in Saylorville and going to school in Ankeny. At any rate, The character of Scotty just didn't ring very true to me, because, as I've said, I was there, living on 23rd street in 1969, and though I was 8 years old, I didn't see things happening the way this character did, nor was I obsessed with sexuality and my parents or my friends parents. Even after we had a prostitute and her son come to take care of us when my parents went on a trip to Dallas, Texas (they didn't know she was a prostitute, she had come highly recomended as a housekeeper and nanny by a friend of my dads), I had to ask my mother what her son meant when he told me that she "entertained men" in their home at night. Her name was Virginia and I recall that she starved us for a week, refused to let us stay inside the house while it was daylight, and that my older brother drank tons of water and lost 10 pounds that week, due to diabetes, but we didn't know that at the time. Hedges has captured something of the mood of the neighborhood, but again, his main character seems like more of an adult in a childs body than a real child. I am going to send a copy to my mother and see what she thinks of it; I imagine she will have more memories resurface than I did. Hedges is best known for his screenplays for "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and "About A Boy." He lives in NYC with a wife and two children, but apparently still hasn't gotten over his childhood and his mother's alcoholism.
I grabbed a copy of "Bookmarked to Die" off the paperback picks rack of the library last week, and was delighted to discover a new series about a sleuthing librarian who lives in Bellevue, Washington. Jo Dereske has created Helma Zukas, a somewhat stiff, dignified woman who is in love with the towns police chief and has a wild and wacky friend named Ruth. Helmas adventures are fun, fascinating and quick to read, so I'm going on the record as recommending them all, though I am not normally a mystery fan.
I also discovered that my friend from North Bend, Syne Mitchell, as come out with a blistering hot new SF novel called "The Last Mortal Man" about nanotechnology and cloning, and the ramifications of immortality being available only to the wealthy. Syne hasn't written a sour note yet, so I am betting this will be another triumph to add to her list of great books.
I also read "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" which is a fictional account based on the life of the author in communist China during the late 60s and early 70s. I was so impressed with the authors love of French literature and how well he wove his tale of suffering and redemption, that I got a copy of his next work, "Mr Muo's Traveling Couch", which I've just started reading. I'm also reading Leah Hager Cohen's "Heart, You Bully, You Punk" but so far, it's too early to tell if it will be as glorious as her non-fiction "Glass, Paper, Beans."
I hope everyone is delving into their summer reading lists with as much gusto as I am!