Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Researching those who don't care to be researched

Research for my book is a bit trickier than I anticipated: it's tough researching people who won't speak for themselves. Granted, you can find some collections of Amish people writing about sundry items like baking, quilting and barn-raising, but most of those collections are written for children and avoid the hard-hitting topics.

Do the Amish like being Amish, or do they stay for tradition's sake? Do any of the regret staying? Do they ever envy conventional dishwashers or the concept of salvation by grace?

Add to that the fact that there are 1,400 different ways to be Amish. One group may eschew regular bathing, while others are more fastidious. Finding out what's standard is like finding out what color is most common for cats.

Then you've got your points of view. People who came from an Amish background are either overly rosy or exceptionally bitter. True, I would have some hard feelings about a group that wouldn't let me shave my armpits. Some of the outsiders looking in have the same set of polarized reactions - I think America wants to believe in the possibility of the idealic agrarian society. It's kind of like the fascination with organic farming.

Before I started working on this project, I read anything I could get my hands on regarding the Amish (Note: anything non-fiction. The Quilter's Daughter isn't my idea of a hard source). Now, I'm going back to look for what I may have missed. It's tough writing about a world I've never experienced and likely never will, considering that what the Amish want most is to be left alone.

On top of all the Amish research I've also got a fairly strict writing schedule; some weeks are better than others. And I never really unpacked from the writers' conference, and my cold combined with my subsequent birthday weekend hasn't done a whole lot for the tidiness of my home. It's funny writing about the Amish, who will shame you with their cleanliness and work ethic, while sitting surrounded by piles of stuff.

However, I do have a load of laundry going.

Some things I have learned about the Amish:

1. They love ice cream. As in, love ice cream the way my husband loves ice cream - by the pint.

2. The children and teens will play volleyball. Violently. Kind of funny if you consider they're pacifists.

3. Amish couples honeymoon at the bride's parents' home until their home is completed. Often, they'll spend the weekends traveling to family member's homes and receiving gifts.

4. The Amish collect no social security, but they do pay taxes.

5. Many Amish are prefer chiropractors to doctors, and will travel great distances to see them. There's a joke that you can get an Amishman to the moon by telling him there's a chiropractor there.

6. Most Amish do use electricity through generators, solar panels, and wind power. Because of this, even the most conservative group (the Schwartzentrubers) use washing machines.

7. The only musical instrument allowed is the harmonica. All church singing is a cappella.

So many other things, but I'm done procrastinating. Will keep posting about progress...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Dancing Queens

Be kind. Leave the men at home. I've heard reports of men volunteering to watch Phyllida Lloyd's Mamma Mia!, and truthfully, these aren't men I'm related to. This movie is an estrogen-fest. Singing, dancing, sighing, and unless the man in your life always wondered if Pierce Brosnan could sing, just say no. Protect the mental health of the males in your life.

The movie starts off with sweet Amanda Seyfried as Sophie, on the eve of her wedding in Greece. While she is young and has the rest of her life ahead of her, getting married now is top priority, because she has a very important guest list.

The list includes three possible fathers - three because her single mother Donna (Meryl Streep) had an active social life twenty years ago, which leaves young Sophie's paternity in question.

All three possibilities show up and the movie continues from there, with a lot of choreography in between. Words don't do the musical scenes justice; I recommend a youtube search. The "Dancing Queen" sequence was my favorite, with Greek women around the town dropping their work to join in. Women of all sizes and ages, real women, all having a grand old time waving their arms and singing.

Their are several intersecting plotlines, involving the fathers, the past, and Donna's feelings about her daughter's marriage, but let's face it. The plot is a vehicle for the musical sequence to follow.

If you like Abba, singing, dancing, platform shoes, sequined jumpsuits, Greece, cheese, and have a large tolerance for estrogen - induced silliness, then this movie is for you. If you prefer for things to blow up (and I'm not talking arguments, I'm thinking pyrotechnics and destruction), try The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which includes not only explosions but yetis.

Trust me. I really wasn't kidding about the jumpsuits.