Tuesday, January 31, 2012


My dad told me once that the scariest movie he ever saw as a child was Them!.
According to the synoposis on IMDb,  "The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization." 
My dad saw it at a nickel matinee in a base theater when he was about 9 years old and reportedly had trouble sleeping for weeks afterward. Besides my fascination with the notion of such freedom at such a tender age, I was appalled with the revelation that anything had ever scared my dad. While I could completely relate to being terrified by giant, man-eating ants, it was more terrifying to me that my hero had at some point shared my childish fears. 

With the advent of the BetaMax, we kids were initiated into the world of movies my dad had witnessed on the silver screen. I remember watching the movie with my jaded, post-Star Wars eyes and finding the special effects laughable and the dialogue melodramatic and stilted. This is what had scared my dad? At the time I chalked it up to one of those quaint 50s phenomena like pearls and shirtwaist dresses and watched Time Bandits instead. 

Last night as I was falling asleep, I was thinking about this - for that is the time when one thinks of such things. Snuggled into my grown-up, post-modern bed, in my grown-up post-modern head, it struck me that the title of that movie - Them! - is the scariest of all. We are all afraid of Them. It is Them that keeps us up at night worrying about what lurks beyond our vision. 

What do They think of me? They said the best thing I should do for my kids is... They say that high fructose corn syrup is bad for me... They might think I'm insane if I... They say the best jeans for my body shape is... They say things about haircuts, health problems, grieving, death, loving, diet, diapering, you name it. They name it. I don't want to disappoint Them. It's not even as tangible as large man-eating ants. It's something even more laughable, really. It's our perceived audience of judges, informants, advisers, expert witnesses, and admirers. Because, don't you know, They don't have anything better to do with Their time than to scrutinize my every thought and action and pass judgement. 

There's the other Them, too. The evil other half of Us and Them. They don't live like we do. They are a threat to me. They don't believe this. They are responsible for this mess. They don't get it. They are to be feared. We are not Them. I'm so glad I'm not like Them. It's our ability to turn people, with one large stroke of  a paintbrush, into two dimensional, larger than life man-eating ants. It's the sort of thinking that helps us sleep at night, comfortable in our own designated circle of Us that, thank our lucky stars, is nothing like Them.

The 1954 version of Them! is a Cold War movie. Remember that umbrella of fear we used to live under? The threat of nuclear annihilation? of Communism? of scary people who looked just like us only wore more utilitarian gray? The era that brought us such gems as Do The Russians Love Their Children, Too? (shame on you, Sting!) and Dr. Strangelove (thank you, Stanley Kubrik!) and that after-school special of doom, The Day After (what?! Just... what?!). We look back fondly and laugh. Such silliness. Such paranoia. Really?! Imagine... quaking in your bed because there might be a domino effect and the whole world might become Communist and there will be vaporization?! My dad shuddered in fear at age 9 under the threat of giant insects. I shuddered in fear at age 9 under the threat of giant bread lines. I'm so glad we've all grown past that sort of nonsense.

Imagine if the Cold War had internet access. Do we even know what wars We're fighting now? I'm not talking about the ones We fight with heavy machinery and tax dollars. Stay At Home Moms vs. Working Moms, Lefties vs. Conservatives, Breasts vs. Bottles, Beatles vs. Stones, Green vs. Guzzling, Luddites vs. Techno-Babies, Vegans vs. Carnivores, Locavores vs. WalMart Shoppers, Natural vs. Synthetic, Coke vs. Pepsi, Literacy vs. Reality TV, Cut vs. Uncut, Apple vs. PC, Christian vs. Athiest, Agnostic vs. Believers, American vs. Imported, Immigrated This Century vs. Descendant of Immigrants, Legalization vs. Prohibition. I've forgotten some on purpose.

We've all hidden in our ideological bomb shelters at one time or another. We've donned the tin foil hats and duct taped our mental windows to keep Them out. It's human nature to hang out with people who like us, who are like us, and who affirm what we believe. The unknown and the misunderstood are naturally a little scary. But when does it become childish fear of things laughable, melodramatic, and stilted? In a world that 1954 only dreamed of, we all have global information literally at our fingertips. How will we use this amazing tool? To erase dividing lines and realize that regardless of ideology most of us are just doing our thing and trying to do it the best way we know how? Or to further divide and categorize and demonize until we finally move from Us and Them to simply Me?

Me. Frozen in that cinematic silent scream, hands raised, backed in a corner and immobilized by a swarm of fictitious man-eating ants. Maybe that's what scared my dad.

This post was written for the GBE2 topic: Reviews. It sort of fits. I'm not sure what They'll think about it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Balancing Act I Do

She came home from school in a mood the other day. She cried a little too easily, got a little too irritated with things, her feelings all on the outside. This is the flip side of that shiny coin of intensity that makes her so bright, so funny, so cheerful and magnanimous. These are the darker sides of those very same traits.

"What's wrong, baby? Why are you so sad? Did something happen at school today?"
"No. I'm fine." A stomp, and a swirl of skirts. Clearly she's fine.
"OK. Let me know if you want to talk about it." She doesn't want to talk about it. She's fine. I don't want to push it, I'm vigilant.

Another outburst. Screaming, sobbing over Legos. "Honey, take a  deep breath. This seems a little extreme."
Deep breath in, and on the exhale it all comes tumbling out: "Mama! Abby had such a rough day at school today and I felt so bad for her and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt bad. It made me grumpy and Hannah didn't care. I wanted Hannah to feel bad too, so I snapped at her. I know I shouldn't have done that and now I feel awful. I feel like she shouldn't even want to be my friend." This is between sobs and wails and deep breaths and nose blows. I hand her a tissue and wonder where to begin.

"Tell me about Abby's bad day." A tale of second grade woe: forgotten homework, a good student finding herself in a "bad" position, embarrassed. My jBird feels her pain keenly. These things are important. She knows how she would feel in the same spot and it bothers her.
"Is Abby OK now?" Abby got over it. She is, after all, seven. There are faeries to imagine, math problems to do, butterflies to chase. I choose my words carefully for once. It's a balancing act I do.

"One of the things I love best about you is your great big heart. You care about people. You understand that people are hurting and that bothers you. That's called empathy and it's a good thing to have." This prompts more wails from her.

We both take deep breaths and carry on. "Do you think Abby is still crying over her forgotten homework? But you are still crying for her. What do you think about that?" This is where it gets treacherous for me. One toe out of place, one false start... the balancing act I do.

"I think it's kind of silly." She heaves.
"Well, I don't know if I'd call it silly. It's not silly to care about people. That's important. It's also important to care about yourself, though."
"I do care about myself!" She does, too.
"I know you do, sweetie. But part of how we learn to care about ourselves is to not give too much of our hearts away." I can speak with authority on this subject. "It's nice that it touches you, but does it need to touch you that deeply for the rest of the day? Some things are worth all of this emotional energy, some things are not. For the things that are not, you need to take care of yourself by learning to guard your heart a little bit. You have to choose what will be a big deal, what will be sad, but not that big a deal." It is not my place to tell her what is a big deal and what isn't. The big deals of seven-year-olds frequently go unnoticed by adults. I remember this right now. There are many days that I don't remember this and dismiss her and tell her to stop yelling at her brother. This is the balancing act I do.

"How do I do it, Mom? How do I guard my heart? I can't help what I feel." Ahh. Busted. Therein lies the rub, doesn't it? How, indeed? I am still learning this. I fail at this miserably. But now I must explain what I know, but not what I always do. This is the balancing act I do.

"Well, your feelings come. They are automatic. They are essentially chemical reactions in your brain to a situation." I can talk like this to her. She's used to it. "We can't help those, they just happen. What we can help is what we do with them. It's up to you what labels you give them: anger, fear, sadness, love. Does that make sense?" It does. We've talked about this before.

"Oh! It's like the train coming into the station, right? I don't have to get on?" Yes, it's exactly like that. "But sometimes I forget and I'm on the train before I realize it." She loves a metaphor as much as her Mama does.

"Yes, that happens. We all do that. But you can choose to get off, apologize if you need to. Forgive yourself and move on." These are words that I say to her. I think she knows I don't fully understand them. I wait. She blows her nose.

"Sometimes I can't forgive myself." Her voice is small and tired and I blow my nose, because I know. This strange heredity that keeps me up at night. Did she just come that way? Something in my DNA that passed on to her like alcoholism or depression? Or have I taught her this through my actions? Both are terrifying and I find them unforgivable. You see why this is tricky for me. This is the balancing act I do.

She crawls on my lap, all long legs and angles where baby pudge used to be. She buries her head in my chest like she's done since her first hour on earth. We quietly sit and cry together over the things we can't forgive. I don't have practical answers for her. I have only my fear and my forgiveness and my love for her.

"We'll work on this together, OK?"

Sunday, January 29, 2012

She's Listing Again: Annotated Version

So it seems that my lists from yesterday left some questions. It's funny, that. Things that, in my mind, are obvious are not so much to other people. Who'da thunk? Heh heh. So, because it's the weekend and all, I present you with the annotated version, free of charge. These things are very silly, but still oddly fascinating to me. Feel free to discuss.

5 For Dinner: These people are chosen for the interest they hold for me and my perception of their ability to make a polite social occasion to be both stimulating and interesting.
Bill Clinton: Besides the whole former leader of the free world thing, he's a brilliant man. He was a Rhodes Scholar, folks. They don't give that scholarship to idiots. I am fascinated by the genteel, elder statesman persona  he has adopted since leaving office and I would like to pick his brain about the work he continues to do around the world. I am intrigued by his ambition as well. I don't have anywhere near that level and I'd like to see how that works in person.
- Mary Louise Parker: Well, she's hot, for one thing. But more than that, she's a good writer, has great taste in music and is a mom but doesn't seem to make a big hairy deal about it. 
Michael Stipe: He's probably not up to much now that R.E.M. broke up and I'd like the chance to discuss with him the effect his music has had on my life spanning back about 24 years. There are also a few lyrics that I've been puzzling over that I'd like to sort out.
Alan Rickman: What can I say? I find him terribly interesting. I love his body of work. I think he's incredibly talented and it's that intelligent sort of talent. He might also, if I ask very nicely, do Snape impressions for me.
Samantha Power: She's got one of the biggest brains I've ever even heard of. She uses this great big brain of hers to think about great big problems - genocide, hunger, etc. and then she works to help implement new solutions to old problems. She also seems approachable and nice in spite of all of this. 

5 For Breakfast: These people are chosen for their general attractiveness to me. You know, I'd also like them to stay for breakfast. Not all at once. Unless Ewan McGregor and Samuel L. Jackson wanted to come in their Obi Wan and Mace Windu costumes respectively, then we could maybe work something out.
- Ewan McGregor: Well, because he's hot. He's also Scottish (the accent!) and he can sing. From interviews I've read and seen, he also appears to be a very devoted husband and daddy. What's sexier than that?
John C. McGinley: I like the characters he plays. He's an attractive man with a great smile and a gift for ludicrous sarcasm. Also reported to be a devoted husband and daddy. Hot.
John Malkovich: He's creepy and strange and has that soft voice and odd elocution. Plus, I've been obsessed with him since about 1987.
Samuel L. Jackson: He's hot. And he usually plays a baaaaad mutha. I'm intrigued by that, and the fact that he's often photographed in fabulous hats and sometimes a jaunty scarf. 
James Marsters: Not only did he play my favorite vampire (Spike in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") but he can sing and he went to Julliard. He's just so cute.

5 For Coffee Talk: These were chosen for coffee talk rather than dinner because I think conversations with them would need to be deeper, longer and not as polite as a dinner party would allow. I'm not entirely I could take them all on at once, either.
Tom Robbins: His writing amazes me. He plays with words in a way that leaves you a little bit sweaty and reeling when he's done. He can describe clouds in such a way that three pages later you feel like perhaps you have never actually looked at clouds before. I want to see what such a strong and vibrant voice on paper is like in real life. I also, if I'm honest, want to show him my stuff and see what he thinks. Because I am just that insecure.
Johnathan Lethem: His writing is less gymnastic than Robbins', but sometimes he will turn a phrase almost incidentally that just stops me dead. Read Chronic City and then tell me that you wouldn't like to sit down and chat with him about the nature of reality.
David Shields: We've discussed this before. His Reality Hunger was a pivotal book for me, writing-wise. I'd like to talk to him more about it and many other things. I got a chance to meet him a few months back, but I didn't get to talk to him much because some other woman was hogging all his time talking about the "women's novel that spans 3000 years" that she had just finished and was looking to have published and that was just ludicrous because we had just sat through his whole hour-long lecture about how, for him, the vehicle of the novel for storytelling was clunky and outdated. So yeah, coffee. Without the aspiring novelist shoulder checking me.
- James Carville: I had a hard time deciding which list to put the Ragin' Cajun on. He's so many things to me. I'm a sucker for a Southern boy, he's a brilliant strategist, I bet he's got some amazing stories to tell, he's loud and insane, he's married to an extremely conservative woman and I'm curious about what that's like. 

- Dwight Yoakam: I saw him in an interview with Jon Stewart several years ago and it was the most delightful stream of consciousness, absurdly wonderful thing I've ever seen on television. He spent a lot of the time decidedly not promoting his new album but instead discussing some various things he'd read about. Ever since then, I've just wanted to chat with him.
For When I'm the Lead Singer in My Own Band: This is just a frivolous mental exercise for me. If ever I should find myself in a band, I promise I'll let you know. But probably we'd never get around to actually writing or performing any music because we'd be too busy trying to determine the perfect name for our band and the perfect title for our debut album. These things are vitally important.
Death Metal - Müskrat
Indie Punk - Jellyfist
Rap Posse - 2 Live Lou
Motown - Roger Bob and the Horshack Five
Super Earnest 80s Throwback Garage Band With Thick Glasses - Last Night's Dishes

Just another window into the edge of the universe over here. I always wonder if I'm on anyone's "list" for something. Who's on your list?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

She's Listing Again

List: /list/ verb "Lean to one side; typically because of a leak or unbalanced cargo."

5 For Dinner:
- Bill Clinton
- Mary Louise Parker
- Michael Stipe
- Alan Rickman
Samantha Power

5 For Breakfast:
- Ewan McGregor
- John C. McGinley
- John Malkovich
- Samuel L. Jackson
- James Marsters

5 For Coffee Talk:
- Tom Robbins
- Johnathan Lethem
- David Shields
- James Carville
- Dwight Yoakam

For When I'm the Lead Singer in My Own Band:
Death Metal - Müskrat
Indie Punk - Jellyfist
Rap Posse - 2 Live Lou
Motown - Roger Bob and the Horshack Five
Super Earnest 80s Throwback Garage Band With Thick Glasses - Last Night's Dishes

Friday, January 27, 2012

Over The Top

I just caught myself looking over the top of my glasses at someone. Not as a theatrical gesture, but just doing it.

Of course, the first thing I did when I got my new glasses was to immediately spend an undisclosed amount of time staring in the mirror and trying out various poses: right profile with glasses, left profile with glasses, come-hither head-tilt with glasses, big grin with glasses, serious don't-mess-with-me-face with glasses, and so on. You know what I'm talking about. Everyone does this. The purpose of this activity, as you of course know, was to determine ahead of time what never to do while wearing glasses. Looking over the top of them was one of the unanimous NOs.

 Lest you think me vain, it's not because of the forehead rendered large and glistening and the chin doubled by this particular head-tilt. It's the whole... attitude of it that I object to seeing on my face. It seems a way to perch yourself atop your pedestal via your eyeballs and look down from your lofty height at something or someone. It's more than merely: "I'm looking down my nose at you", it's "I'm so high up here I have to look over the top of these frames and then down my nose." These are not impressions I wish to broadcast with my mild myopia.

Alas, I found myself today sitting in an undisclosed location zoning out and sightlessly staring at the action around me over the top of my glasses. The particular population who frequents this undisclosed location are a demographic that is signified, in part, by its seemingly contradictory propensity for gazing down noses and a hyper-sensitivity to being gazed at from atop a schnoz.

Imagine my predicament. I sit here in this veritable powder keg of scrutiny, not just looking but staring down my nose over the top of my glasses. Adding insult to injury, I was thinking. Which, when combined with not paying attention to my external surroundings, produces a sort of slack-jawed frowny face. In my defense, I was thinking about cheese enchiladas which obviously requires a great deal of concentration.

Having reached the end of my enchilada ruminations, I returned to my senses enough to realize that my glasses had slipped down my nose in my reverie and my gaze was affixed on a group of people directly in front of me. I realized what I must have looked like and immediately went into panic mode. Did they see me? Should I apologize and explain about the enchiladas? Should I just play it cool and turn around? These are the politics of frequenting such places - taxing, to say the least. But while I was settling my glasses into their proper position and settling upon a course of action, I realized the objects of my inadvertent gaze were completely consumed in an activity of their own: telling each other what I know to be outright lies.

It appears that not many people notice nor care what I'm doing with my eyeballs, glasses or enchilada thoughts. They have their own lies to tell. Discuss.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Examining A Strange Moistness

There's one of those things that people say. Something about wearing someone else's shoes. I don't believe in repeating things idly, but I do think I believe that sentiment. I think one thing we should not, under any circumstances do, is wear someone else's hat. The shoes are kind of icky, but the metaphorical shoes of the metaphor will probably not have athlete's foot or a strange moistness to them. Probably it's about having some perspective. The hats though, the hats. It's one thing to try and see from another perspective. That's a good idea, nay, a necessary one for living peaceably among plants and animals and men. It's another thing entirely to attempt the interior of another's skull. That stuff's encased in bone and goo for a reason. Think with me here, if you could really and truly have front row seats to the action in a loved one's cranium would you take it? I don't think I would. It would blow my mind. Literally. I think there would just be some sort of high pitched humming and then zzzzzt! nothing. It kind of blows my mind to be inside my own cranium sometimes.

One time I told a friend of mine that I just wanted to crawl inside his head and take a nap. He said that it would be a dark and lonely place to sleep, crowded with baggage and possibly clowns. I changed my mind. No thanks.

So, I'm in the car today by myself just prattling on something like this:*

Why do all the deejays in Seattle think it's cute to do that shambling, self-conscious thing with the erm, uh, well, yeah and pauses too long to be on air? Is that a thing? Am I so old that that's a thing now and I missed it somewhere? Hey wait, did he just say Emmy Lou Harris and John Prine? What?! Oh nuts. It was a "just before that, you heard..." situation. This is why I don't listen to the radio. It's so fleeting. I'm always missing something crucial. I could have heard that Emmy Lou Harris & John Prine cover that I've never heard of but instead it's this twaddle. What's the Cracker song? How does that go? "What the world needs now is another folk singer, like I need a hole in my head." Earnest girls with big glasses and bangs. Heh heh. Hey, remember that time I heard the deejay say "with a deep nod to Black Sabbath, a retrospective of Thai death metal, circa 1978" and then I had to get out of the car? That left so many unanswered questions. Oh look, the personal fitness place closed down. Those are kind of like folk singers in this town. Never send a girl to do a man's work. I didn't even know there was such a thing as Thai death metal. What in the world does that sound like? How can there have been a Thai death metal history stretching at least back to 1978 and I'm just now.... what? Wait. What was that?! NEVER SEND A GIRL TO DO A MAN'S WORK?! What does that even mean? Why did I think that?! What does that have to do with anything? and so on.

This, of course, took place over the span of about 15 seconds. Imagine that for about 20 hours a day and then sometimes while you're sleeping except with pictures and sounds, too. But the thing is that you can't imagine that. Because I can't imagine it and it's coming from my brain. The whole notion of a brain thinking about itself can send me right around the bend on the right kind of day. What I have obsessed about for the rest of the day (other than how could I have forgotten that Christian Slater was in Prince of Thieves? Would I rather Robin Hood sidekick Christian Salter or Heathers Christian Slater or ooh no! Pump Up the Volume Christian Slater. (Larissa, if you're reading, get to Googlin'!) and also writing in the second person - can it be done in a way that is neither tedious nor confusing?) has been the fact that my very own brain injected a piece of complete misogynistic nonsense into a perfectly normal afternoon.

Now I have to consider the following: Is it a message from my subconscious? Have I had enough/not enough/way too much coffee to drink today? Is that a line from a movie? If so, why did I watch a movie like that? If it was a movie that I watched with such bad writing that I can't even remember, why did that just lodge itself and then pop up later like a bit of Christmas ham from a molar? Am I hearing voices? No, that was clearly my own voice, my own head voice anyway, so why would I say that to myself? What about John Prine led to that crazy bit of free association? And of course, the ever-important consideration: do I need a nap?

So back to the shoes. Used footwear aside, sometimes we think we know. We look with our eyes at the outside of that cranium and the skin and hair that encloses it and we judge. We do. We don't mean to sometimes, but we do it. She gave me a dirty look, he didn't say hi, she shut the door in my face, would it hurt to run a comb through that mess? and so on. We listen with our ears and our hearts and I believe the most of us try to honestly hear and understand. But we don't know. We think we know, but we don't. We can't crawl inside that goo and take a nap or be scared witless. But we can know what inhabits the strange interior seascape of our own mottled universes. We can know that we don't even understand all of that strange moistness that belongs to us, so why do we presume to judge the ickiness of another based on such dodgy evidence as a raised eyebrow or a smile that's too tight? Why, oh why? do my pajama pants smell like a junior high boys' locker room?! I just washed them.

*The following paragraph is as close an approximation as I can get to the babble of consciousness in my brain while I was driving. It may not make a whole lot of sense to anyone, but that's kind of the point.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Salad Days

When I moved into my first apartment, I was heady with the power of being able to live on my own terms. I could go to bed when I wanted, eat what I wanted, listen to what I wanted, wander around in my underwear if I wanted. It was my space. My place. But what I wanted to do was save jars and use them for glasses and keep a festering bucket of pulp in my kitchen into which I chopped up old newspapers and junk mail which I  used to make my own paper on the weekends. In a time before curbside recycling, I assiduously rinsed out containers and found uses for them. I cooked massive vegetarian meals and served them with herbal sun tea made in old pickle jars - bra-less and barefoot in the back yard. I made my own cleaning supplies from magical recipes that I found on mimeographed fliers at a head shop. My dad called me bohemian, my mom called me nuts, my downstairs neighbor called me all sorts of things for using her picnic table and clothesline for my paper-making without asking. I was young and dumb and on my own for the first time. I was broke and hungry and trying to make the best of what I could scrape together. I didn't realize I was playing the tuba for the frugal living bandwagon.

Frugal is the word on everyone's lips these days. In one of the nicer reactions to our economy's downturn, it seems a lot of people have decided to take matters into their own washing machines and start learning how to do without, do with less, do for themselves. Why pay Dow Chemical Company or Proctor & Gamble (remember when they were Satanists? Are they still Satanists?) for your laundry soap when you can whip some up yourself for pennies on the dollar with common household items? It's like my 18-year-old self is finally vindicated. I wasn't a freak, I was ahead of the curve. But actually, what I was, was broke. Which is what a lot of people are finding themselves now. The fact that we have the internet to share these brilliant ideas has only added fuel to the frugal fire. Inexpensive, recycled, sustainable fuel that you bought with a coupon, that is. The upshot of this is that when, on days like today, I finally decide I'm bored enough to dust and have no furniture polish, I can Google "homemade furniture polish" and come up with a variety of recipes without ever setting foot in a head shop or getting purple ink on my fingers. Brilliant. And that's just what I did. Bingo. Found one that called for ingredients I had around, threw it in a spray bottle, and I was off. [Side note: the Hooligan watched this activity suspiciously and then said: "Whatever it is that you're doing, I do not want to help you."]

So there I was: standing in my living room, spritzing my economical, self-assembled Swedish furniture with what is essentially a bottle of salad dressing and listening to the harmonium of sanctimony swell up in my personal soundtrack (everyone knows the harmonium is the most sanctimonious instrument) when I had an epiphany. One minute I'm feeling all snazzy-razzmatazz and oh-so-belt-tightening and the next I'm feeling like a greasy schmuck in a Morrissey sweater rubbing condiments on my furniture. I wasn't doing this because I had to. I could have driven or walked to any one of the 5 retail establishments within a few blocks from me and purchased a bottle of furniture polish the old fashioned way. This wasn't an adjustment made out of necessity or any sort of lofty principles, it was just something to do to make me feel better about myself. I wondered what my 18-year-old self would make of me: the hipster housewife, reluctant PTA mom, over-educated and under-worked, feeling like the Good Samaritan while she polishes her entertainment center in her middle class home in a nice neighborhood in one of the most upper-middle-class cities in the country. I kind of know what she'd make of me, being me and all.

It's not a bad thing to want to cut costs, to make do, to try to be good stewards of our resources. Not at all. I'd prefer this sort of mass reaction to economic downturn than some sort of Johnathan Swift-esque baby-eating reaction. It's not a bad thing to want to be good to the environment. But is it because those are actually things that we understand and believe in? A lifestyle choice? Or are we just belching and farting along on the tuba in the wind section of a particularly appealing bandwagon? What happens when the price of eggs and milk and gas and houses go back down again? When jobs are stable and available? When benefits and bonuses return? When -as these things are known to do- the cycle shifts and we're on the upswing again?

What happens when the salad days return? Will we still be dusting our furniture with salad dressing?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Blessedly Messy Business

Around the end of the last century I decided to divide my heart in half and share it with a really important person. He gave it back to me whole and then some. I've never understood the finer points of the "hard sciences" - some say it has something to do with chemistry or some such. Perhaps mitosis? That's biology. And it rhymes with halitosis, so I reject it. Olivia Newton John said something about physics once, didn't she? I was distracted by the headband, can't remember. But this greatly nuanced and highly developed scientific investigation proves one thing to me: it's a phenomenon that isn't necessarily codified or quantifiable.

Just to test this theorem, we took our combined hearts and split them open again almost eight years ago and then there was this very small, delightfully distracting and demanding person in our home, all up under our skin. The hearts involved never healed properly because there was so much extra material packed into and around them - like booby trapped overstuffed chairs. Once we grew accustomed to our enlarged chest cavities, we three decided to pool our resources and make room for one more. It seemed my daughter had an endless supply - just stuffed in that little body like a clown car - we stood back in amazement as her heart poured out and out and out. Not to be outdone, we did the same.

Now there's this whole big mess of hearts under our roof. Sometimes we step on it and have to back up slowly, apologizing. Sometimes someone loses theirs and someone else steps up and shares a bit of theirs until the first someone gets it back together. Sometimes we stretch that rubbery, sticky mess as far as it will go in four directions so we can have our own bits for a while. Sometimes there are intruders. People who would want to come and meddle around in that. Sometimes we let them visit for a while. Sometimes they are unwelcome. Sometimes I wonder how we all got in this mess to begin with. Sometimes I wonder how exactly it all works. Sometimes I wonder if this is how it works for everyone. Sometimes I wonder if at some point the whole mess untangles. Most of the time I don't really care. I don't know the answers to any of these wonders why.

What I do know is that when I tell them I love them with all of my heart, it's a blessedly messy business.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Fashion Tips From the Periphery

It may come as a surprise to you, gentle readers, that I am a bit of a fashion maven. I have deemed it both necessary and charitable of me to share some of my fashion tips. Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

For formal dress occasions:

- If you should, in a fit of purse straightening, inadvertently snag your nipple atop the neckline of your ill-fitting, second-hand formal gown and then proceed to grin around making small talk with assorted acquaintances who mysteriously will not make eye-contact with you, simply remove yourself quietly to behind a large potted plant and make the necessary adjustments. It is also helpful to compile a mental list of those with whom you've spoken since you last adjusted your purse and resolve never to speak to them again.

- If, while attending a semi-formal cocktail party full of people who intimidate you, the heel should fall off of one of your 12 year old, 100% plastic platform boots, simply shove the errant heel into your handbag and proceed to tiptoe on that one foot in a height approximating that of the intact boot. If someone should happen to notice the horrid scraping, clunking, hollow plastic sound your foot is making or your uneven gait, startle them speechless by whipping the heel out of your handbag and introducing them to the intricacies of the innards of bargain footwear.

- If you are attending a wedding and wearing gorgeous Italian leather stilettos for the first time since giving birth, and you should happen to inadvertently wedge your heel into the floorboards of the elegant front porch of the bed and breakfast, make sure you mother-in-law is standing near you to catch the baby who flies projectile-style out of your arms as you lurch forward, tearing your gorgeous shoe and your new Chinese silk brocade pants.

Business attire:

- Be sure to remove your adult-sized mittens-on-a-string from the sleeves of your coat before gesticulating wildly about where "we" will put the hors d'ouevre bar. The representatives of major business interests and city council members to whom you are trying to pitch the event may find the swaying mittens dangling from the sleeves of your cashmere coat distracting and/or mesmerizing.

- In some circles, plastic spray-painted mini skirts with red snakeskin platform loafers are not considered proper business attire. Those circles tend to be a little uptight, in my humble opinion, but they also may call your boss to make passive-aggressive observations about the "creativity" of your clothes. Simply make note of this and absolutely do not, under any circumstances comment on the client's regrettable plastic surgery the next time you meet with her.

Casual, about the town:

- Should you decide to wear your favorite regular-person tights while nine months pregnant with a 10 lb. baby, dispose of said tights before the baby in question is a year old. If you should forget to do this and happen to be crossing a busy intersection with hands full of stroller, groceries and toddler when the tights fall to your knees, simply hold your head high and saunter on your way (as best you can with tights around your knees) until you find a bus stop shelter in which to hike them up. If this should occur more than once, remove the tights immediately and dispose of them where ever you are. If this should occur more than twice, seek professional help.

- Should your voracious newborn decide to take an extra-long nap when they normally eat and you spray what may be a pint of milk out of your boob, through your shirt and onto an innocent bystander, hope and pray the innocent bystander is a kind and gentle soul who thinks breast milk is wonderful. Also, a jaunty scarf made of some sort of dark, waterproof material can distract from unsightly wet spots down the front of your shirt.

- If you purchase and wear the ever-stylish pre-distressed jeans that are sold at Goodwill and other fine thrift establishments, it is highly recommended that you accompany them with interesting (or at least clean) underwear in the event of unexpected rippage (this usually occurs when engaged in activities such as wrestling a stray monkey into a car seat, squatting to pick up groceries from an overturned cart, or sitting on one of those tiny little elementary school sized chairs in front of 28 first graders. It also happens with little or no warning to the wearer.)

- Bowler hats totally go with overalls for almost any occasion and don't let anyone tell you differently.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Some more lyrical prose:

Eking toward brightness, center bound. Layers like clothes peel away, broken, soiled, worn with care. Shed like tears to fill and fill and fill that river. Turning inside out, spinning in the wind. Wind of words and musts and oughts and shoulds and someday soon.

Eking, shrieking, dragging shuffling feet that itch to dance; to find that primal beat once forgotten but always remembered. Listen. Listen. Listen. Tap-tapping distant calls like first drops of rain. With the tears, tap-tap. Thrumming thunder emerges, memory serves me up a dish of long ago. Recognition flashes from the swamp. Aboriginal drumbeat is my heart. My feet. My steps. Step step thrum tap tap thrum. Emerge. Emerge. Evolve.

Eking timid frightened toward, forward, and through. Step step step.
Eyes off your feet now - dance!
Brightness comes.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Low Budget Performance Art

The Hooligan, my quiet and contemplative child, has been talking pretty much non-stop since about 11:35 this morning. The jBird, my chatty one, has been curled up reading a book quietly since about the same time.
It's like some sort of Dada performance art piece: I enjoy it, I'm confused by it, and it's giving me a bit of a headache. My maternal instinct fears this inversion of personalities precedes a physical illness, but in the meantime...

The Hooligan, I do believe, has used up all of the words in the house for the day.

Wishing you all peace and love and creative juices and a restful weekend.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Back That Truck Up!

Here come the claws. Like in a B werewolf movie, I can feel the wiry hairs sprouting on my knuckles. I have hackles and they are raised. This is not a comfortable state for me to be in. My general M.O. is to mind my own business, but sometimes I feel the need to give somebody the business.

Having just blogged about the First Amendment - using "blogged" in the loosest sense of the term, more like cutting and pasting - I will be the first to stand up and defend anyone's right to write or say or do whatever they want to. I also will defend my right to say Back. That. Truck. Up!

1st Truck that Must Back Up: Stop calling every parenting style with which you don't agree "abuse". Regrettably and horrifyingly, real abuse does exist in this world. There are families who are subjected to demeaning, hurtful, damaging, and sometimes even fatal atrocities at the hand of a parent. If that's what you're talking about, call Child Protective Services, don't blog about it. If by "abuse" you mean: setting boundaries, not setting boundaries, watching TV, watching the wrong sort of TV, eating at McDonald's, eating meat, not eating meat, going to public school, homeschooling, buying toys they like, not buying toys they like, making them do chores, not making them do chores, admitting that they get on your nerves, being stressed, disciplining, not disciplining, wearing pants, cutting their hair, or any other random thing you've taken against, cut it out. For every post that I read that some smug know-it-all rails against the "abuse" they witness other parents doing, I read five more written by honest, hardworking mothers who are doing the very best they can day after day through all sorts of circumstances and instead of going to bed at night feeling like they've accomplished something, they feel guilty. Like they don't measure up. You know why that is? Because the honest ones among us realize that sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes our human nature gets the better of us, sometimes we are not as good a parent as we'd like to be or as we know how to be. And then some jerk comes along and proclaims that yes, indeed, you are doing it all wrong and let me tell you how. Back that truck up. If you have parenting all figured out and you never get tired and you never do or say things you regret and you always make the very wisest choice in every situation in your life and your poop smells like roses, keep it to yourself and your little padded cell in Wonderland.

2nd Truck that Must Back Up:  Everyone around me must, right now, quit saying the following: Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, any combination of the words think and box, the phrase "everything in moderation" about anything at all, the sage wisdom "everything happens for a reason", "now more than ever", "let's roll" and probably some others but I can't think of them right now. The English language is rich and beautiful and has stolen so many words from other languages that it's now the boss of all languages. Let's air out some new phrases, shall we?

3rd Truck that Must Back Up: Stop calling everyone with whom you disagree politically a Nazi. It's rude and displays a shocking lack of historical perspective. If they are marching crowds of human beings to mass execution, then OK. If they are a feminist or a Republican or a great big blow-hard or just someone you don't like, find another word. There are concentration camp survivors still walking around and it's disrespectful to them for you to even compare your petty political complaints to such horrors.

4th Truck that Must Back Up: Stop being offended when someone offers you a kindness. I am so liberal I'm looking at Socialism in my rear view mirror, but part of my libertine ways is to treat all people equally. So if you're old or female or male or trans-gendered or a kid or whatever I will treat you with kindness. That means I will hold the door for you if you are a few feet behind me, I will offer to let you cut in line if I have a giant cart-load of groceries and two kids and you have only a few items, I will pick up something you've dropped and hand it to you, I will offer you my seat on the bus if you look tired and whatever else it may strike me to do to try to make your day a little easier. Looking startled and refusing doesn't make you liberated, it makes you rude.

5th Truck that Must Back Up: Me. I'm in a bit of a snit.

My darling readers, I started this blog as a means of expression for mostly me. I never really imagined that other people would read it, much less like it. I'd hoped, you know, or else I wouldn't have published it. But I get such positive, yummy vibes from all of you every day and now it has transformed a bit with the consciousness that others are reading. Don't take my ranting personally, please. It's just a little tantrum. It's also in response to the GBE2 prompt this week: Pet Peeves. Wow, I needed that.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hip Waders Strongly Recommended

I blacked out yesterday and came to with my hand in a bag of Trader Joe's Movie Theater Popcorn, a veritable bucket of chili on the stove in what could only have been a limbic, Pavlovian response to the mysterious white that has stitched up the city - emergency! they say. The only emergency I can see is that I tripped over some bliss and fell into a pile of tiny gloves mittens scarves boots hats coats left drying by the fire from this bonus vacation that turns our tiny house into an island or maybe a boat. Adrift in drifts and jewel earthtones warm inside with winds that buffet - buffet! I say - and mix with tiny squeals and sliding cardboard on forbidden ground - the driveway and into the street. Today nothing is forbidden, the fruit has been frozen and covered in a sparkling white dream where the outside world, bereft of grownups, is theirs to conquer and build and throw and wallow and slip-slide-sled. The boundary lines have been blurred in the ice and the world slips open just a little bit more. "Come in when it starts to sting" I sing and busy myself with soups and mugs of hot things for impossibly red faces and the hair! That glorious hair all matted wet and tangled up plastered places escaping upward from crowns and it's the hair of happiness. Tying knots in yarn with sticks and making more things to get wet and loved, pausing to add wood to the fire, sip my coffee, revel in the presence of my truly better half, my everything in this unexpected leisure of emergency! We listen for sirens and say silent prayers for those without their own boats or islands of warm woolen hand-knit comfort and fires and cocoa and assorted soups. At night the city holds its breath - its groaning, sighing, chirping dream state ceases and falls soundlessly asleep, buried deep in the cold. We lay and listen to the silence and further evidence it's only us and ours and now. We watch the scrolling tide of cancelled, postponed otherness - outside things on other planets than today. We walk the blurry lines to fill our bags with tasty things to comfort, keep us warm. I am regal in my cape - a carriage coat from the turn of another century, passed down by great aunt who's recently gone. I wear it, warm, and think of her and smile. I smile in my bowler hat, my hot pink rubber boots. Ridiculously warm and ridiculous, I sweep the tops of banks with its length. My footmen are brightly colored monkeys, my handsome prince carries my parcels and I am the queen of 12 blocks. I blacked out when I contemplated this life. This blessing of wonder and speech and the thousand million tiny web-like threads which some would break for some loose change jingled on top of a heap. I speak, I write, I think - I have these luxuries - this tiny bright candle of magnificence in the darker tides of human history. On other days I tremble to think of that tiny light quietly whickering away bit by bit in laws and bills and hate and greed. But today, I came to in order to celebrate. This is so much more than words. It's so much more than me. It's so large, this life that fits in my tiny house with a sloping driveway. So large and so brilliant I grasp only wisps and whispers of its magnitude.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pleading for the First

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Check these out:

Southern Fried Children

Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Faith In Ambiguity

The M Half of the M-n-J Show

Word Nerd Speaks

Follow the links. Think about what this really means, not just for bloggers, but for everyone. American readers, think about whether this is the sort of country you want to live in. Do what you think is best.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Figuring It Out

Has this ever happened to you? Someone says "Oh! You look just like so-and-so!" If the so-and-so is a celebrity you can either be baffled and flattered (Sandra Bullock) or baffled and insulted (Sandra Bernhard). But rarely do we ever respond to that with "Oh, I know. You are so right."

Apparently facial recognition hinges on whatever salient feature we use to identify the person in question. So, if the beholder associates my face with a full mouth, they may say Sandra Bernhard and completely disregard my nose. If the beholder associates my face with dark hair and almond-shaped (yet Caucasian) eyes, they may say Sandra Bullock and disregard a good many other things. They will also be the beholder for whom I have a higher regard because I will associate them with shameless flattery and disregard any other unpleasantness. The human brain, not being the most straightforward of tools, sometimes mixes up emotions into this form of pattern recognition as well. This is why grandparents will look at a newborn grandbaby and say "Why, they look just like me!" (The one exception to this lack of objectivity may apply to grandfathers because most babies do, indeed, look like old men when they are born. Not mine. But most. Just saying.)

We use pattern recognition in our everyday life just to function. Whether it's picking our loved ones out of a crowd, or driving a car, or folding the laundry, we do it automatically without much thought. I secretly believe some people are better at it than others, (behold the woman driving the wrong way down the one-way parking lot!) but we all do it to free our brains up for more important conscious thought like: "Would I rather have a nose that functioned as a pencil sharpener or a belly button that functioned as a condiment dispenser?" (The answer to this is obvious.) Sometimes, however, as happens with all supercomputers, our brains get stuck in an algorithm that doesn't necessarily apply. ("How about a nice game of chess?" Name that movie.) We attempt to make patterns out of things that don't make sense to us. Sometimes we get a nice, off-the-cuff blog post about it, but sometimes we drive ourselves (and occasionally others) insane.

I was driving past a bus stop a while back and saw a man bent over the bench. He was either showing that bench a really good time or he was heaving up three days worth of food. I wasn't sure which, so I took the opportunity afforded by the red light to stare at him and try to figure it out. As I craned to see around the car next to me, it suddenly occurred to me that either way, was it something I really needed to watch?! But something in my brain wanted to figure that out, to put that poor man's activity into some sort of category so that I could go on about my business.

I was at the library the other day and encountered three people of indeterminate gender. It was a puzzle that my subconscious worked on the entire time I was there. Did it matter at all to me what gender they were? Of course not. Would I be interacting with them in any way that would make my knowing their gender necessary? Nope. But my brain just needed to know for some reason.

But what happens when we spend a lot of time and energy "figuring things out" and we come up with Sandra Bernhard? What if the salient facts we choose to link together completely disregard something as obvious as the nose on a face? What if, in doing so, we make further decisions based on this faulty pattern recognition? If you walk around thinking that the whole world is using you for their personal Port-O-Let, then everything will taste vaguely of urinal cake, no? What if the salient facts we link together actually have nothing at all to do with each other and we just think they do? What if the salient facts I link together actually have nothing at all to do with me and I just think they do? Being the center of the universe, I hardly believe that last one is the case, right?

It's all innocent enough when you mistake me for someone else, but what if based on that mistaken impression, you move in with me thinking  I am your mom? Or you hate me? Or you send me demented fan mail and stalk me? Unless you are Matthew McConaughey mistaking me for Sandra Bullock and wanting desperately to get back together, I'm unlikely to let that slide. How often do we do this? How often do we insist, in spite of evidence otherwise that we fail to see, that something is definitely one thing and not another?  How often do we end up "moving in" with these mistaken impressions and letting them own us?

Our brains are wired to make sense out of nonsense. That is why an intrepid few people read my blog. But sometimes things are just random. Some things don't make a whole lot of sense. Sometimes the patterns we see are just an attempt to make chaos manageable. A scary notion in some ways, but liberating to me. If we're going to do it anyway, why not choose the good salient facts? Why not see Sandra Bullock? Why not make the pattern we recognize be the one wherein we are blessed and people are generally nice and we can learn from whatever happens to us? Why waste the mental energy and anguish figuring things out that have no bearing on us whatsoever? If you're not going to do anything about it, what does it matter to you what that man is doing to the bus stop bench? Why walk around tasting urinal cake in the back of your throat when it could be the delicious condiment of your choice (Hummus. Is that a condiment? I think so.) that is dispensed by your belly button? Why not mix up a metaphor Kamikaze and toss it down?

As for me, I look like neither of the Sandras. I look like me, random chaos that I am. And my kids? They totally look like me. Until they hit that awkward elbowy phase. Then they'll definitely look like their dad.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Know All That

The Hooligan got into it a bit with a boy at his preschool last week. The Hooligan is, in fact, a hooligan. But he is a sweet and tender hooligan and he doesn't really fight much. Most of his shenanigans are of the self-directed, quietly making a gigantic mess or very bad decision variety. He's not an aggressive child, so I was a little surprised to hear he'd had a little tussle at school.

This is how the Hooligan told me about it:
"Hi Mom. Charley and I developed a friendship today."
"Oh really? How did that come about?"
"Well, first we argued and then we fought and then we hugged each other and made a nice friendship."

So we talked about it for a while and he seemed OK with the outcome. He had no idea what started it or why they were arguing, they just suddenly were. Then he said:
"You know, I am friends with Charley now, but he's really annoying."
"How so?"
"Well, he picks on my lunch and he sticks his tongue out at me all the time and he tells me that he can run faster than I can."
"So, what do you do about that?"
"Well, sometimes I just ask him to go away. Sometimes he doesn't listen when I ask him, so I sit there and pretend that I am being very quiet and still, but inside my head I am shouting so loud. Do you know what I mean?"

I know so well what he means that I cry. My Hooligan is my least expressive child. He'll tell you magnificent stories about spaceships and aliens and trains and ninjas that go on and on, but he doesn't often let on about what he's feeling. He's a lot like me that way.

Today was one of those days where I pretended to be very quiet and still, but inside my head... so much shouting. Some of it mine, some of it other people's, some of it justified, most of it not, all of it overwhelming.

So, I'm going to follow the advice I gave my Hooligan:

Ask it nicely to stop.
Play something different.
If that doesn't work, get help from an adult you trust.
Remember you can always tell someone about it before it gets too much.
Don't ever use your hands or feet to express your anger.

My Hooligan looked at me with his little 5-year-old eye-roll: " I know that, Mom. I know all that already. I'm just saying that sometimes it's hard to do what you should do."

I know, baby, I know.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Davids Are In Collusion Against Me

I have been singing this Bruce McCulloch song in my head for the past couple of days to keep myself from curling into the fetal position and sucking my thumb. I'm not a superstitious person. I'm not even sure what all of the superstitions are. Knocking wood, hat on the bed, salt over the shoulder, something to do with ladders and cats and stuff. I didn't realize this past Friday was the 13th until I sat down and did the painstaking calendar math involved in counting the number of days it has been since the Chief Lou's birthday, trying to figure out what day that was and then trying to figure out what the current day is. I'm chronologically challenged that way. So, on Friday the 13th, the Chief Lou and I sat down to movie night and a cozy fire and I really haven't been the same since. Not being superstitious, I refuse to believe the date on the calendar has much to do with it, but I'll let you be the judge.

The Blue Velvet Chronicles:

Sometime in 1991 - My friend (who was so not my boyfriend, why would you even say that?!) and I went to our friend Mandy's house to watch a movie with her and her boyfriend, Dave. My friend (who was positively not my boyfriend and whose middle name is David) was way into Twin Peaks, so he thought it would be wise do delve deeper into David Lynch's work and brought over Blue Velvet for our viewing pleasure. While being as jaded and worldly-wise as all 16-year-old girls are, I was actually pretty sheltered and naive. For years I remembered very little about the movie except a pervasive, shuddering ick.

June, 1992 - Senior prom. My friend (still not my boyfriend, folks!) and best girlfriend from high school (whose dad's name is David) share the first slow dance of the evening. Friend-not-boyfriend thought it would be really funny to request Blue Velvet for the first slow dance. I remember very little about the experience except feeling like it was, perhaps, icky and being impatient for Tainted Love to come on.

January, 1998 - I take an abnormal psychology class with a man (named David) who would become my favorite professor. In the first few days of the class, the professor discusses his early experiences with Freudian psychoanalysis. Apparently his analyst was a bit on the strange side and his entire office - walls, proverbial couch, everything - is covered in blue velvet. The professor says this with a tangible shiver and easily segues into David Lynch cinematography as an aside.

July, 1998 - My wedding day. My "something blue" is a pair of blue velvet underwear. My maid of honor (sister) tells my matron of honor (best girlfriend from high school) who tells her husband who casually mentions it in nervous conversation with my future sister-in-law's boyfriend, who immediately tells my future sister-in-law, who tells... well, really, everyone (she's a one-woman broadcasting network, that one) including our extremely strange and high violinist who agrees with Chief Lou's aunt that it would be an absolute gas to play a rendition of Blue Velvet on the violin and harp as our first dance at the reception. (Sound impossible? I have it on video somewhere.)

Sometime in 1999 - We finally decide on curtains for our bedroom and purchase them on sale at TJMaxx. They are a gorgeous navy blue velvet. This coincides with my taking another class from Favorite Professor David and a repetition of creepy blue velvet analysis couch story. F.P. David finds it curious and entertaining that our new drapes are made of the portent-laden fabric.

July 3, 1999 - The Chief Lou sends me a dozen long-stemmed roses at work in honor of our first anniversary. He phoned in the order to the florist who was obviously not paying very close attention. The card reads: "Thank you for the best year of my life so far. Happy Anniversary! Love, David". My husband's name is not David.

Fast forward to this past summer, 2011 - I check out David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again from the library. I barely make it past the essay about tennis and math when the Chief Lou commandeers it and reads the whole thing, excerpting the highlights for me. An especially salient essay for him is David F.W.'s take on David Lynch's Blue Velvet. The Chief Lou casually comments on it and says he's never seen the movie, have I? I tell him I have, but that I barely remember it. Seems like it was pretty strange and maybe I was too young to have understood it fully when I watched it but that any mention of the words blue and velvet together gives me a bit of a chill, but I can't remember why.

Friday, January 13th, 2012 - Snuggled down with the Chief Lou on the couch and he produces his movie selection for the evening: Blue Velvet. Have you seen this movie?! Did it creep you out as much as it did me?! Why is Isabella Rossellini's wig exactly the same as her hair?! What is the thing on the couch in the background at the Quantum Leap dude's apartment? Why is the dude from Quantum Leap even in this movie? What kind of acting mojo enables Dennis Hopper to make an oxygen tank scary?! Why the long face, Laura Dern? And why does anyone listen to a word that Kyle MacLachlan says when he's got his shirt buttoned all the way to the top, which is clearly the universal cinematic symbol for "crazy train"?! And why is the happy-feel-good ending the absolute creepiest part of the whole movie?

And most importantly, why have all of these Davids colluded against me all these years? I'm beginning to get a little nervous. What did I ever do to the Davids?!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Of Blogs and Frogs and One More Elephant


This year is one of those years where we mess with the time-space continuum and add a random day to the calendar. (I learned in science class why we do this, but it's still weird.) Do you have plans for Leap Day? How will you spend your extra day in February? Why not spend it playing Leap Blog?

Some really fantastic bloggers got together and decided it would be fun to use this bonus day to share guest posts on each others' blogs and they've let me tag along, too. It's not too late to sign up. Just click on the link under the frog picture and it will bring you to the sign-up page and perhaps a clearer explanation of what's going on.

This also means that if you should click this way on February 29th, you will not find my usual nonsense, you will find a guest blogger to peruse and enjoy and you must promise me now that should you choose to follow them (which you should), you must not forget about me. Now go sign up so we can mix it up good.

Also, another elephant. Last month, Kelly over at Southern Fried Children - don't click there now, you won't want to stop reading and then you'll forget what I was saying and it's vitally important - wrote an hilarious post about her mom called The Linguist wherein she describes her mom's penchant for picking up accents from people. I commented at the time that my dad used to do the same thing, much to my chagrin. To further mortify entire countries of people, he would often purchase and then wear "native" hats in an attempt to "go local". This obviously had the opposite effect of what was intended and was somewhat the same (or worse) than a tour company T-shirt and a fanny pack. This was especially true in Asian countries where my white, red-haired father could in no way be mistaken for "native" - even if he was wearing the traditional bamboo hat favored by 18th century indigenous peasants.

The only person in my family not to be embarrassed by this phenomenon was my little sister. She was always a Daddy's girl and this was no exception. So we have pictures of our family in Austria where the two of them are sporting jaunty mountain-climbing yodel-ay-hee-hoo hats, in Hawaii with (I kid you not) hats woven from grass, and in China with Chairman Mao hats, and so on, while my mom, brother and I are all just sporting perms and pained expressions. My all time favorite, though, is of just my sister. A tall and skinny 10-year-old with a giant bamboo lampshade hat in Thailand. The hat is too big for her and sits down on top of her glasses. Utterly un-self conscious and thoroughly absorbed in her activity, she (and the hat) are tottering atop an Asian elephant.

It's a picture that makes me laugh and makes me proud.* While I was lurking around with a camera and big bangs trying to disappear, she just fully embraced the whole experience and hopped on that elephant. Because of the way we grew up, I always kind of assumed that everyone just traveled the whole entire world and that I would do it forever. That I would be able to go back to Thailand any time and hop on an elephant. It hasn't happened yet. And it may never happen.

I had the opportunity once to ride an elephant, but I didn't. I was too busy trying to be cool.

*Sadly, I have searched and searched for this photo and can't find it. I believe it may have been kidnapped by my sister. She's not as proud of the picture as I am.

Friday, January 13, 2012

They Call It Mello Yello

There seems to be some sort of brouhaha surrounding Dr Pepper right now. From the various Facebook status updates I have seen, I have been able to piece together that it may have something to do with whether or not there is a period after the "Dr" in the name, a city in Ireland, and throwing Snapple bottles like Molotov cocktails. This is baffling news to me and if someone would like to synthesize it for me and leave it in a comment, I'd be much obliged.

Meanwhile, I will tell you two stories about my blatant hypocrisy.

Blatant Hypocrisy #1:
The only beverages of which I imbibe are of the one pronounceable ingredient variety. Namely: water, coffee, and milk and the occasional glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. When I was at a very impressionable age, someone told me a story about his ex-girlfriend's father who was a very large man. He switched from Coke to Diet Coke and lost about 40 pounds without making any other changes to his lifestyle. I found this particularly horrifying because I hate Diet Coke. I'm not a calorie counter at all, but perhaps because I'm not, I prefer not to fill up with beverages that have the calorie and carb content of an entire meal.

But then there is Mello Yello. Oh, Mello Yello, with your intentionally misspelled branding, your retro can and your nuclear waste greenish yellow (yello?) manufactured citrusy goodness. What better to wash down a giant helping of chips and queso than a bubbling river of sugary toxic delight? I could make all kinds of excuses and say it's only infrequently and usually only one can split between the Chief Lou and myself. I could be all defensive and say I never give it to my kids. But that only serves to further accentuate my hypocrisy. So instead I will just own it and say nanny nanny boo boo. What one of us doesn't occasionally indulge in something wholly disgusting, but thoroughly delightful?

What makes this particular beverage all the more fun is that in our house, one must say "Mella Yella" in an East Texas drawl and bellow it, even mid-sentence at the dinner table, in a Foghorn Leghorn type voice. Why am I telling you this? Because it leads into my second blatant hypocrisy.

Blatant Hypocrisy #2:
I never pay any attention to the news. I especially have moral and spiritual issues with the sort of lampooning, gossipy tearing down of public figures. When Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen participated in their respective public downfalls, I hid anyone on Facebook who had a lot to say about it, I didn't find the jokes funny and I didn't want to hear it. How would you like it if your infidelity or mental breakdown was a punchline to millions of people? Call me crazy, but I don't think I would like that very much. Same goes for political gaffes - of which there are many. My natural state is to be critical and snarky and I work hard to be gracious to the real people in my life. I don't need to counteract that work by being critical and snarky about strangers who just happen to have the national attention. It's a personal choice and whatever, so's your face.

Having gotten all up on my self-righteous soap box, I will now come crashing bum over tea kettle down to say that the Chief Lou made me watch this video (reminds me of a reverse Garden of Eden: "It's this woman you made, Lord! She made me do it!") the first time, but maybe not the second through fifth times. Stupid YouTube and your stupid replay button. Alas, I will own it and I won't make excuses. It just tickled my funny bone. Without further ado, I give you.... Rick Perry.*

Even checking to make sure the video posted correctly has made me apoplectic. Someone with a lot of time on their hands and a delightfully absurd sense of humor has helped me combine two of my blatant hypocrisies. Forevermore, when either of us reaches for a Mello Yello, it is no longer the Foghorn Leghorn Mella Yella. No, that was fun while it lasted, but henceforth Mello Yello shall be known in our most presidential oratory voice as:

Hot yella Kool-aid!

If you're going to violate randomly held principles, you may as well have fun with it and wash down that crow with some hot yella Kool-aid.

*You must watch the video or this post makes even less sense than my usual nonsense. Pay close attention around 1:05.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Even A Good Melon Has A Soft Spot

The Chief Lou and I married young and quickly. It's not a course of action I would recommend in general, but like that old lady says in When Harry Met Sally "sometimes you just know. Like you know about a good melon." He's my good melon. But there were a few things that we didn't get the chance to discuss before the big day where we vowed before God and everybody to spend the rest of our lives together. We agreed on all of the big things: God, politics and coffee. We reached an amiable compromise on some other important things: Top Five Greatest Movies, Bands, and Songs. And it just seemed like all the rest would work itself out.

I mean, how do you work it into a lovey-dovey, dating, I want to spend the rest of my life gazing into your eyes type conversation that you may or may not, hypothetically speaking of course, have a deep and abiding love of legumes? When he pledged the whole "until death do us part" thing, I don't think he ever realized that death could come silently and soon from the Dutch Oven of Doom.

While writing each other the poetry of the gods about how the moon is only shining because of the reflected light of her handsome sun, it's tricky to slip in a stanza or two about how the moon never cleans out the car or takes it for an oil change and it's not a moral failing, per se, it's just that the moon gets so busy with the other things she's got going on, like seeing if she can make green bean pâté that tastes just like the real thing only vegetarian.

And it's a known fact that while dating you will sit through any movie if it gives you the opportunity to snog with your beloved, but there was no discussion afterward about how we would never, under any circumstances withstand the sheer cinematic torture that is Highlander, no matter how brilliant and underrated you think it is and if you want to watch a movie with a Scotsman in it, any and all of the Ewan McGregor ouevre are not only perfectly acceptable, but mandatory at regular intervals, yes even the one where he's a crooked stock trader and pukes all over a fancy dress party. There's just no time, what with all the goo-goo eyes and making out.

One of the biggest things that the Chief Lou learned about me after we got married is that I may or may not be a bit of a hippie. Not a mall hippie who's in it for the fashion statement. I have no peace sign necklace from Claire's Boutique and while I do enjoy tie dye, patchouli, and batik, I indulge only in moderation. More of a mental hippie, which I think he may have confused with being the same as his ultra-liberal progressive politics with a button-down collar. He had a few discoveries in store for him.

A few months after we got married I gave him a Grateful Dead sticker to show him how awesome we were. It was two of those little infectious dancing bears and it said "A Rare and Different Tune". I thought it summed us up exactly. It never went on the car, although he did appreciate the sentiment. I think I still have it in a drawer someplace.

I had the rare treat one time of witnessing my Texas boy's full range of facial expressions - from jubilant joy to the depths of despair - in the space of the few seconds it took me to utter the sentence: "I'm making chicken fried steak for dinner. I found these breaded meatless 'beef' patties at the grocery store today!"

By the time the kids came along, he was amenable to breast feeding (not that this is a particularly "hippie" activity, he'd just never seen it before), baby wearing, co-sleeping and cloth diapering. He just took them in stride, embraced them, even advocates for them now. 

He has learned to enjoy TVP tacos, homemade soap and hairy armpits. He knows how to choose batik and incense and the all-natural cosmetic items I like. He patiently washes the handmade reusable sandwich bags we use to pack the kids' lunches. It took a while to get past it, but he accepts that cloth napkins are not just for fancy meals. He understands why I save used envelopes and put stickers over the pertinent parts to reuse them. He even has helped move my collection of salvaged empty jars around the country a few times. He's a patient and tolerant and loving man. He takes my whims in stride and doesn't criticize or complain or, more importantly, say "I told you so" when one of my experiments fails (green bean pâté). But I may have found his breaking point the other day.

Casually, while watching TV: "Hey, you know how when the kids were in diapers and we used those reusable flannel wipes with the tea tree and lavender solution I made?"

Wary, eyes flickering to the side: "Um, yes?"

"Well, I was thinking that maybe since we still have that small diaper pail and reusable liner, we could just put those in the bathroom and...  I'm still trying to figure out how to manage the space issue, but I thought..."

Gulp, deep breath, his voice almost a squeak: "Does this mean you're going to stop buying toilet paper?"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dancing With Elephants, Part 3

Reason #3 For the Recent and Alarming Contemplation of Elephants:

One of my favorite things that we did on a family trip to England (besides walking five feet ahead of everyone hoping that some dashing young British man with proper dentition would come and swoop me away for tea and crumpets) was to visit the ancient city of Bath (which my dad embarrassingly pronounced "B-ah-th" in spite of his being, you know, American.) It was all just so ancient and so Roman and it thrilled my little preteen soul to walk on those cobblestones and smell the sulphur and know that I was gawking at the very tiled seats where so many royal and imperial bums had sat and soaked. The other thing I loved was making rubbings of the old brass tomb plates. They were engraved in intricate detail and depicted the very royalty I wanted to marry into. (This was before the whole Diana Disillusionment.) So, for a few pence (which at the exchange rate then was probably about 65 American dollars) you got a giant piece of black paper and a gold crayon thingy and you could do a rubbing of the brass of your choice. It was so much fun to run the gold crayon across the paper and watch the picture appear in relief. (It was also a great way to take these beautiful brasses home without committing a crime against the Queen.)

I was thinking about this the other day after I read Masked Mom's post entitled "Can I Get That In Writing?" It's an incredibly thought-provoking post about the things that we choose to write, or actually the things that we choose not to write and what we learn about ourselves from examining that. It sparked a whole mess of comments that were also thought-provoking, one of which mentioned elephants and sent me dancing with the pachyderms again.

Jane In Her Infinite Wisdom said this: "These are the things I don't write about in the blog, things I can't help but remember, things I don't want to share...not because I don't want you all to know me but because I don't want to hurt those who've hurt me. They are my large elephants and I still struggle to maneuver around them without acknowledging they are there."

All of us have these elephants. What do we do with them? Do we dress them up as furniture and bark our shins on them in the dark? Do we dress them in a tutu and turn a spotlight on them and make them dance for a crowd? Do we cower under them and hope they don't shift their position and stomp on us? Do we feed them and let them grow huge and poop all over everything? I often try to answer very important questions with very silly mental images. And I guess that's sort of the point. We all have different ways of dealing with these elephants, some more effective at times than others.

I consistently find it the most difficult to write directly about the things that are most important to me. So I travel back to Bath. I grab my giant piece of black paper and my gold crayon and rub away. I take those elephants' pebbled hides and use them as my brass. I don't touch them directly, but I rub and rub and bring forth their texture, their shape, a piece of their enormity. And it brings relief. Almost everyone I've ever heard of who writes, does so out of a sort of compulsion. They've got to. Whether it's because they have a fantastic story to tell, or because it helps them sort things out, or because they like to entertain, it comes from a drive akin to hunger. It is a relief to write about things - whether fictional or not, whether it's scribbling away in your tear-soaked unicorn journal or a blog or (heaven forbid) writing a best-seller. 

These elephants of ours give us vast resources upon which to draw when we write. I suppose there's a time and a place for stark revelation of the elephants themselves, but I know that even in my tear-soaked unicorn journal it is often more illuminating to write around the elephant, over the top of it and back again, giving it a once (or twice or thrice) over with my gold crayon. It's not ignoring its existence, it's drawing upon its existence. This gives me a chance to take it a piece at a time, to notice details I wouldn't have otherwise seen, to appreciate the texture and contours of different aspects of it. Is it likely that I will somehow forget how much I love my husband and monkeys if I don't write it down? Will I stop missing my dad if I don't use exactly those words? Will my maternal anxieties vanish if I don't address them directly? Probably not. But those are things that I can't write about directly; not well anyway. But I can tell a story about something the monkeys said, or my husband did. I can recall a fond memory of my dad. I can laugh about some minute anxiety (barf). All of those things will bring into relief the bigger picture and the more I do it, the clearer the picture becomes. The same is true of the uglier, darker, more hurtful elephants.

This is especially true of my public writing. It's a great way for you to take these beautiful elephants home without committing a crime against the Queen.