Thursday, January 31, 2008

What Is This Politico?

And why had I never heard of it before yesterday? And why, since yesterday, has it suddenly become omnipresent? And do I have any interest in reading it?

Hmm, after brief perusal, probably not regularly, although the comments on who won the debate are fascinating--wonder if the Obama folks were sent out to spin, or if it's real. It was striking at the end when he went to shake hands with the swarming mob while she chatted with Chelsea and Wolf. He's catching up fast in CA, CT, MA (too lazy to check more--and that link will change daily, so I'm just noting what it shows tonight).

Watching My First Debate

I know: ridiculous. How could I not have watched a single debate? Well, I don't watch TV so much, I don't have so much time, and I suspected that debates would be boring, which, you know, they kind of are.

But, I must say, Hillary is impressive. And boring. She keeps starting off great, and then she goes on and on, and I drift away. Obama is fine. Good content, OK delivery. If I were undecided (which I suppose I'm not, kind of, pretty much), would this help me make a decision? Mmm, hate to say it, maybe Hillary? But then she goes on and on, and the moderators have to interrupt her, and while she's talking I think of her husband (who is no longer an asset, I would say), and her proclivities for secrecy and paranoia, and maybe not.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Back to Britney

This article offers insight into this video. (I got the link for the article somewhere, can't remember where, but it's pretty much everywhere. It's pretty good, too.)

Retitled Post

First half of post deleted because it was obnoxious.

(And in contractor news, there must be a recession, because both contractors called us back, and now we have two consultations scheduled for next week. More obnoxiousness deleted.)

(Did anyone wonder what made me finally do it? It was the arrival of the new guitar gadget S ordered. I don't even know what it does--something about recording the guitar directly into the computer--and it's not even very big--maybe the size of a lunchbox--but it was sitting on the dining room table, and I thought where the hell is this thing going to go, and if we had already renovated, and the tiny guest/TV/CD sunroom was now just the tiny music sunroom, it could go in there, so I better call a contractor, because this guitar gadget is going to make me lose my mind.)

(Edited to add: You know, I have no idea where that guitar gadget went, so maybe I can cancel the contractors!)

More on Jerry Springer

Great review. I can't speak to the performance, but this is totally insightful about the show. The thing is, the protestors think the show (and probably, by extension, Jerry Springer, though only secondarily) is the problem, but I would argue (not particularly originally, but certainly passionately) that the protestors are the problem. I do find it interesting that they started protesting in London only after the show had been running for years, and I wonder whether the instigators were American. One of the most refreshing things about living in England was the complete absence of evangelical Christianity from the public discourse. I hope that's not changing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Santana to the Mets

And I'm (KNOCK WOOD) fine with it. I like the Mets, want them to succeed, and our current pitching roster is pretty stellar, especially with those young pitchers whom I would have hated to lose. (Anyone missing the Red Sox blogging yet? First spring training game is less than a month away!)

Pregnant Angie?

Picture, thousand words, and all: the internet is agog with rumors that Angelina and Brad are with biological child--and maybe two. So here's where I'm not quite sure whether to get all judgemental about them having ANOTHER when they've already got four under six--I mean, can those children possibly get all the attention they deserve? and I'm sure Dawn could wax emphatic about adoption and attachment and such matters--or whether to wish them all the best, because they've certainly got the money to hire the nannies, and it's their right to do whatever they want with their bodies, and it's none of my business anyway.

Guess What I Just Did?

Made an appointment with a contractor.

Congratulations will be accepted in any form.

The Other Kennedy

D sent today's Brooks column to me five minutes after I read it. My first reaction was "YES!" My second was the anxiety I always feel when David Brooks seems to make sense and support my side: what's he up to? what card of irony or undermining is he playing this time? But D is the master of liberal realpolitik, so maybe it's OK?

I do have to wonder what kind of effect Ted Kennedy's endorsement has in the real world (as opposed to the media world). S shares Brooks' opinion that lots of Catholics will follow Kennedy's lead, but I have no idea.

Several decades ago, when I was young and political and had lots of time, I was working desperately and frantically on a campaign (desperate because truly we had no hope of winning, frantically because what else can you call fifteen hours a day in campaign headquarters). One day, a week or so before the election, we were notified that Kennedy was coming to town for our guy--in two days. There were advance people, posters, press, phone calls, even less sleep. I finally slipped out of the office, just as he arrived, and into a far corner of the venue.

This was back when our idea of Kennedys was still young and virile, but he looked terrible (he still looks terrible, but now we expect it, and back then he was fat as well as grizzled, so he looked even worse). He lumbered into a room filled with people seeking the smallest reason to hope--OK, so it was the faithful, but still--and he brought down the house. He was one of the most inspiring speakers I've ever experienced in person. When he finished talking, we were all ready to get out there and fight to the bitter end, knowing it was worth it. You could see in him what his brothers must have been, and you could only wish he hadn't misspent so much of his youth. Except that I think Brooks is right: being a senior senator and the eminence grise of the Democratic party suits him. He has accomplished an enormous amount on his own terms, not as the pale shadow of his brothers.

So maybe Kennedy getting out there and stirring up the faithful will help galvanize the not quite sure.

My god, do you think David Brooks is thinking of voting for Obama?!

[D's most recent email: "He may be a conservative, but he remains a Jew." Hmm, that's bracketing about 40 years of cultural and political history, but I'll take it.]

Monday, January 28, 2008

Whenever I bring my lunch,

I end up eating it before 10:30, which somehow seems to obviate the effort.

I wasn't going to read it,

because I figured I knew what it said, but then I did, and I have to say that Caroline Kennedy's op-ed is awesome. Now I suppose I should watch some of Obama's speeches, because even though I figure I know what he says, my mom and K keep telling me they are awesome.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Time Flies

My grandmother would have been 110 today.

The Day After, Yet Again

What continues to fascinate me about this campaign is how absolutely certain everyone is--each time everything changes. If I were a responsible blogger, this would be a long post full of links, but I'm a blogger with a huge money-paying project that has suddenly entered my life and demands all my attention, except when my brain is momentarily fried and I must surf the internet for details of Heath Ledger's memorial service (definitely one with Naomi Watt in LA last night, but was there really a small service in NY with Michelle on Friday?) and what people think about the Obama South Carolina landslide. And what people seem to think is every which way: she's doomed, he's permanently tarred (purposeful language) as the Black candidate and thus doomed, Caroline Kennedy's endorsement will make all the difference, or not, California is definitively Hillary's, California is definitively Obama's. Aren't the only things that are abundantly clear at this point that: 1) outrageous numbers of people are voting, and 2) nobody knows what will happen? And I, for one, happen to think this is very cool, though I am increasingly invested in an outcome (the Clintons are disgusting me, and I wish Edwards would throw it in and endorse Obama).

Saturday, January 26, 2008

(Narcissistic) Reflections on the Screen Time Conundrum

As usual, it all comes down to me.

This morning E woke up long before the rest of us. She brought a book into my bed and read for an hour. Then she played dress-up games on the computer and emailed her grandmother. S finally got up, made her breakfast, and got her dressed. Since then, as the rest of us have staggered into the day, she has banged on a drum, composed a song, had a parade, and now she is playing teacher, writing the daily message and various other instructional communications on the giant pad of paper and reading them aloud to invisible students.

Not exactly the picture of a mindless drone enslaved to the computer.

I decided to try the limitless strategy. M and E basically are on the computer whenever they want, and my only response is to tell them to turn down the sound because it's driving me crazy (I fear that in years to come, when asked what their mother said most often during their childhoods, they will say, in unison, "you're driving me crazy).

E is now leading the invisible students in rehearsal for "The Land of Sweats" (which refers to candy, not workout wear), a play based on the song composed earlier.

All indicators suggest that my children are just fine. They swim two or three times a week, love gym, walk to school (M takes the bus, but there's walking on each end), wrestle, dance, and happily engage in any physical activity we propose. Their grades are as good as it gets. They have lots of friends (M's in good part facilitated by the endless IM conversation). They both read every day (when I suggested to M that the unlimited computer time seemed to be cutting into her reading, she pointed out that she spends hours at school every day reading under her desk, so by the time she gets home, she's a little tired of reading--alas, it is true, and her grades are still as good as it gets). S makes all these points, as well as the winter argument: once the weather is nice, they are outside, and computer ebbs away: another fine indicator.

So what's wrong with this picture? Obviously, me. And while a piece of my problem is aesthetic disgust (MY children spending hours on stupid girl websites, putting pixelated babies to bed and dressing up Hayden Panettiere?!), a bigger piece of it is guilt and the inevitable sense of maternal inadequacy. I'm not sure whether I know it or feel it, but it seems to me that if I were an more engaged mother, if I did art projects and cooked dinners they could help with and played board games more willingly, not to mention pretend games, they would be old-fashioned non-cyber children and everyone would live happily ever after. Even worse? I know that when they are on the computer I can do what I want without being bothered, and I kind of like that. Worse still? I am on the computer way too much, and I fear that I am the negative role model, and yet I can't seem to get off the computer. Really, I should be sent to the reform school for bad mothers.

Proof? Last night we got home and everyone was on the computer. Then M said that she was waiting for me to knit, so that she could knit with me. Now, I did not know this, but it was further proof of this all being my fault. And, indeed, when I settled in to knit, everyone came over to knit, and then E stopped knitting to have a minor tantrum, but that was followed by much singing and dancing on the part of E, as M and I knitted on the couch, and then wrestling by M and E, as I knitted on the couch. Domestic non-computer bliss.

The moral of this story: hmm, not quite sure. Maybe I should engage the children in doing what I like to do (knit, girls reading party, yoga, make Valentines [I do love making Valentines, despite my general art project aversion]) and not worry about what they do the rest of the time. Hey wait, that IS what I do. So maybe everything is indeed fine, and I should just stop worrying about it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

OK, Let's Get That Meta Thing Off The Top

Harvey Keitel starring in Jerry Springer: The Opera? Be still, my beating heart! We saw the show when we were living in London, and it was absolutely mind-blowingly over-the-top fantastic. Just thinking about it makes me happy. And I said at the time, there is no way this will ever play on Broadway, and looks like, so far, I was right. (Warning: the link has a huge spoiler in the second paragraph--maybe everyone else knows the plot, but I didn't, and not knowing it felt like a big part of the enjoyment, because at the end of the first act I was thinking, eh, this is going nowhere, and then the second act blew my mind in its epic transgressiveness.)

Going Meta

One of the ways I have reconciled myself to blogging--at this point I no longer threaten to give it up, since such threats have proven fruitless--is by refusing to engage blogging itself as a blog topic. I find my own blog angst inherently unappealing, and surely as uninteresting to others as it is to me, so I refuse to reify it in pixels, and I prefer not to engage in it at all. This blog is, I've come to realize, part of my life, so long as it stays part of my life, and when it's not, it won't be (yes, that is a conceptually if not syntactically Beckettian if not Steinian sentence, and I find it quite humorous that I have alluded to Beckett twice this week, when really I am so not the Beckett type, despite the nominal off rhyme) (clearly, to assay blogging in a meta kind of way, which is what I am about to do, albeit briefly and with little insight, requires me to gird my loins in pretentious discourses that signal the meta) (that's the self-conscious "look, I do know what I'm doing here" moment) (in case you didn't notice).

I've read a few blog posts recently that probe questions of identity, self-revelation, and audience with respect, explicitly or inferentially, to blogging (see here and here). What's interesting to me, given the level of angst I have about so many aspects of existence, is that these questions don't particularly bother me. There are things I don't blog--the content of my work, my intimate relationships except in a humorous or loving way, things that would embarrass or upset anyone besides me--and there is my (surely transparent) anonymity schtick. But aside from that, I feel like I'm pretty much me. Indeed, one of the reasons I don't blog under my real name is that I don't want random people who know me (as opposed to random strangers) to see how much time I spend thinking about hopelessly trivial matters.

Part of this comfort with my blogging self may have to do with the fact that I have consciously made this a "what I think" blog, rather than a "what I do" blog. I certainly talk about some things I do (I recall a string of posts, probably in the spring of 2005, because we were still in No Longer Red State, about the girls being sick and me losing my mind), but for the most part it's not a diary kind of blog. I don't care about keeping anyone updated about what's going on, unless I feel like it. I'd rather bloviate about the Red Sox, Britney, Ian McEwan, and politics, which are indeed, basically, what I think about (I also think about work, and the issues surrounding my work, an enormous amount, and sometimes that is a frustration, not to be able to blog those issues in the way I really think about them, but I can live with that) (and of course I think about my kids, who sort of bridge the think/do divide, in life and in blog).

Hmm, now I see why I don't get meta. This is indeed boring and not very insightful. I was just thinking about it, and, you know, this is a "what I think" blog. And now I'm having a meta-blog-anxiety moment, because I really want to end by putting out the question of whether the blog me seems like the real me, but then there's the awkwardness of the unanswered blog question, and the blog question's implicit goal of pulling in comments....ack, must stop now so as not to fall into abyss of blog angst...

Edited to add: So I just skimmed the last few weeks of posts and of course the think/do divide is fallacious, but, whatever...

Edited again to add: It should go without saying, but clearly won't, that this is all about me and my blog (sometimes non) angst, not anyone else's blog, blogging, identity, or angst.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

About Face

The whiny post that is my life is just too same old same old to spend more than a moment contemplating, let alone writing (think winter, screen time, shoes in the middle of the floor, M's school, tween attitude, too much work, not enough sleep, oh god, even a parenthetical list is too dreary to continue) (though really this is just today: yesterday was quite delightful, and today's dreariness is probably erected upon a base of exhaustion).

Instead I decided to try some narrative therapy and make a list of things that have recently made me happy, such as:

- Hearing "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" and "Karma Chameleon" yesterday morning, courtesy of the human jukebox I live with who programs the iPod and plays crazy old school CDs in his car. (The first time we heard "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" was on one of those interminable drives from East Coast Big City to No Longer Red State Capital City. I have no idea why we were listening to country music, except presumably we were in a road trip radio wasteland. It took us a moment to get what we were hearing, but ever since I have just loved that song, and having it come up on the iPod at the gym yesterday morning pretty much made my day before it had even started.)

- The people I work with. I've worked with a lot of difficult people in recent years. These days I work with a lot of people, and the vast majority of them are fabulous: smart, effective, fun: people I'd choose to spend time with even if I didn't work with them.

- Coming up with great solutions to some work problems.

- Successfully finishing a work project that has been hanging over me.

- The Chili Radish (basically kimchi) and Gourmet Anchovies (the tiniest fish you've ever seen, fermented with soy beans) that we got at the Chinese supermarket which I've been gobbling by the spoonful, even though they were supposed to be a present for S.

- Hugs and kisses from M and E. (OK, they made me write that, but it's true.)

- The Palestinians breaking down the fence and storming Egypt.

- Deciding that I am going to do some yoga, read a bit, and go to bed tonight, instead of working.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

That Kind of a Night

K and Post-Academic emailed me pretty much simultaneously to say they were going to the gym (on opposite sides of the country), right around when I decided to cope with my rising work anxiety by doing some yoga (though perhaps doing some work might have been more sensible). I quite loved today's Yoga Today video, "Mental Clarity and Stamina," which I very much need, even though it was all about standing poses, which usually I'm not too fond of (OK, just lunges and warriors, except she made them OK), but I was very much amused by the opening commercial for security systems, which was about as un-yoga as it gets.

For Post-Academic: Heath Ledger

If you click TMZ every five minutes (not that anyone would do such a thing), you get a new post each time: he was naked on the floor, no he wasn't, Michelle Williams is devastated, and, oh, a little Britney for the purposes of distraction.

I don't know about you, but I'm thinking River Phoenix: shocking sudden death of popular young talent. But the difference is the media cycle, which is now minutes, not days. With River Phoenix, the paper said he died and nobody knew what happened. And then a day or so later, it was an overdose. A few more days and we learned that the vegetarian poster boy was in fact something of a junkie. This time it's minute by minute: he was in Mary Kate Olsen's apartment, no he wasn't.

Who knows whether Heath Ledger's death was an accident, suicide, signal of drug problem, complications of pneumonia...though presumably soon enough we'll all know (top story on CNN and NY Times) (does this really matter more than the American soldiers and Iraqi civilians who died today? I still force myself to read the names, every single one, each time I see the list of this week's dead).

A young actor's death, a young father's death: tragic, yet also, at this point, banal. Our obsessions (corporate push/personal pull): pathetic.

A One-Question Quiz on Parenting Guilt and Responsibility

You are supposed to be where you are supposed to be at 8:30, which means leaving at 7:30. However, your significant other has to leave at 7, so you have to take younger child to school, which means leaving for where you are supposed to be at 8:15. At 7:45, older child calls and says she needs her Latin book and folder, and she has already forgotten them once, and if she forgets them again her teacher will be mad and she will get a 0, and you have to bring them to her after you take younger child to school. Older child's school is ten minutes in the opposite direction from where you are supposed to be.

Do you:

a) Bring her the book and folder, because the most important thing is your child's education and happiness.

b) Tell her she's the one who forgot the book and folder, so she needs to deal with the consequences, because she needs to learn a lesson.

c) Tell her you will write a note to the teacher, because your work is more important than her grades.

d) Berate and lambaste her but bring her the book and folder anyway, because you operate on no principles except getting through the morning.

e) Other.

Oscar Nominations

For perhaps the first time ever, I am 0 (as in zero) for everything (as in I have not seen a single movie nominated for a major category). Including Juno, which I am afraid I have lost all desire to see, if I ever had any, given the number of blog posts and articles I have read about it. Hmm, tempted to just leave it that way...

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Berkshires Seemed Dreamlike on Account of That Frosting

Or, Relaxation, Hospitality Professionalism, Conceptual Art, Post-Industrialism, and, Because We Don't Want to Stray Too Far From Narcissism, My Hair

As previewed, children were deposited and we took off for scenic North Adams, Massachusetts to stay at The Porches. We spent much of a day at Mass MOCA, where we had, ridiculously, never been, and we ate at Jae's (because everyone said it was the place to eat), Cafe Latino, and Mezze (Mezze was great, Cafe Latino good, and Jae's fine--more about Porches and Mass MOCA below). We took a hot tub under a full moon; it was 15 degrees and my hair froze. I worked out twice. I read Ian McEwan and S read David Mitchell. We listened to Miranda Lambert, X, Wilco (of course), and Okkervil River. If you didn't know better, you would think we were pretentious artsy rich people, probably from New York. OK, so we're just pretentious artsy people, but at least we're honest about it.

We are also increasingly picky and cranky people. Really, we SHOULD be rich New Yorkers. Except that I think part of the reason we are so picky is that if we're going to splurge, we want things to be right. Some things that were right at the Porches were the incredibly comfortable bed and, oh my god, the sheets (could some of the rightness come from the fact that they were, uh, clean?). Also the fitness room with great machines and enough of them. The hot tub was most excellent, and the decor was hip--didn't thrill me off my rocker (that's kind of a Porches joke), but certainly was what it should be.

The service, though? Not so much acceptable. What's going to happen on a holiday weekend at a destination hotel? A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE GOING TO COME. So what do you need to do? MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ENOUGH STAFF ON DUTY. To do things like HAVE ENOUGH COFFEE CUPS AT BREAKFAST and RESTOCK THE TOWELS IN THE POOL ROOM. I tell you, next time there's an opening for a cranky rich New Yorker, I am so there. But seriously, a hotel that nice and expensive should not be making me notice that the croissants on Sunday morning look like bad airplane croissants (and then what's with the perfect croissants Monday morning? uh, you know, you're a weekend kind of hotel, you should be serving your BEST croissants on SUNDAY MORNING, and if the baker takes Sundays off, well, find a new baker). OK, even I am getting disgusted with myself, so I will spare you the rant on the restaurant that wouldn't find space for us Saturday night even though half its tables were empty, and anyway S does that rant much better than I do, having the professional angle and all.

As I said, it's just ridiculous that we've never been to Mass MOCA, given all the time we've spent driving back and forth between the middle of the country and the right side of the country over the last several years. But now we've been, and I will say upfront and thoroughly sincerely that Mass MOCA is brilliantly excellent and we loved it. Oddly, both S and I had envisioned it in the middle of a field, but it is right there in the middle of town, a huge old mill complex, which is just fabulous for big art. And I love that there is no permanent collection, which means it really can be a museum of contemporary art.

We loved Spencer Finch's exhibit, What Time Is It On The Sun?, from the first piece, which is a pair of black-and-white photos, labeled, that mark the two ends of a rainbow in Brooklyn, I think in 2004. You know how there are supersmellers and supertasters? Well, this guy is clearly a superlooker. The show is all about light and color and time. Like, there's a piece that is 100 paintings of pink circles, all different pinks, and the title is something about trying to remember the color of Jackie Kennedy's hat. And as soon as you start looking at the paintings, you think, what color WAS her hat, because of course it was round and pink, but which pink? And several other paintings are colors at different times of day. And there are these fabulous window filter installations which are also about capturing color and light at precise moments. So this was where I had my insight about conceptual art, because there were some pieces that did nothing for me. One was a circle of fans, and the title was something about the wind at Walden Pond for two hours and 22 minutes on some day, and the fans went on and off to capture the direction and speed of the wind that day. It was technologically and theoretically interesting, but aesthetic pleasure in the moment? None. So, for me at least, conceptual art works if it engages me in perception, not just thought, and that's my insight.

There were also mind-blowingly amazing Anselm Kiefer paintings which that link barely captures. Really, if you have any chance of going to see these paintings, you must, and you must think of Waterloo and Jay DeFeo's "The Rose," and, wait, maybe I can find better links for those paintings, yes, try here and here, but truly they barely capture them either, so you must just take my word for it and go. There is also a Jenny Holzer exhibit (good link on that one) which is behind a closed door and I said to S, as we went toward it, "This I am so not interested in, she has done nothing new since the mid-80s," but it was actually kind of cool: the banal words were projected and moved across the enormous room and there were giant bean bags to lie on and watch them move, kind of like The Weather Project at the Tate Modern a few years ago, only not nearly so fabulous (I tell you, the pretentiousness meter is rising, rising, rising). And then there are giant paintings from military PowerPoints about the plans for the war, which are pretty compelling and make an interesting counterpoint to Kiefer's war paintings at the other end of the building.

But enough about art, what else was on my list? Oh yeah, post-industrialism. Hmm, I'm getting tired, and I can't imagine anyone besides Jenny is still reading, but I must go on (I can't go on, I must go on). I don't really know the abandoned factories of the midwest or the abandoned mines of the west and southwest, but, to me, the abandoned mills of the northeast have always been one of the most powerful symbols of our collapsed economy. Not the mortgage collapse of last year or the stock market collapse of this week, but the utter collapse of an economy of production into an economy of consumption that seems at best decadent, at worse hopelessly unsustainable.

We used to call North Adams the armpit of Massachusetts. It was a bus stop and a place to get through as quickly as possible, happy you didn't live there. Mass MOCA is an amazing thing, truly, as is the recuperation of mills everywhere--whether they are condos, community spaces, high-tech companies, artist's studios, whatever. And yet, I found myself asking, again and again, how much of the renascence of North Adams via contemporary art is really trickling down to the descendants of the people who worked in those mills. Surely there are jobs: service jobs, for the most part, though also secretarial, security, construction. But are there enough jobs? Are there real opportunities? Is there anything for the kids? I hope--and I am not going to try and figure it out, this is not my problem--that Mass MOCA has a great educational program, that they are employing high school students in putting up exhibits, and bringing every North Adams elementary school kid into the museum at least twice a year, that they send their visiting artists and interns out into the schools, that they are championing art education for the masses, not just art consumption for the elites, because that is what has the possibility to make a real difference for North Adams which, frankly, aside from Mass MOCA and the Porches and a few nice restaurants, really does not look so different than it did back in the day.

Am I done yet? Oh yes, my hair. My hair actually looked fine this weekend. Which could be because 1) I have gotten used to it, 2) it has grown out sufficiently to look reasonable, or 3) the real issue is less my hair than the exhaustion in my face so that on a relaxing weekend my hair was free to look fine. Whatever, we'll find out soon enough, and I'll be sure to update.

Longest post ever?? And I didn't even talk about the pathetic tweed-jacketed professorial type we saw both Saturday and Sunday night, clearly trying his hardest to get laid on a college town holiday weekend. Way too depressing, and not my problem. Truly, though, it was a lovely break.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Psychotic Workaholics Take a Break

S and I are depositing the girls with their cousins and heading to a nice hotel to eat, drink and sleep for a few days. If we wake up, we might take in some art and/or nature, but no guarantees. Hooray for long weekends planned in advance!

Recycled Books

I just love this article. And I love that Tony Judt is their example.

What's the Opposite of Aftermath?

I know it must be some totally obvious word. Pre...something?

Last night I saw the before and after(math) of an accident. I was driving home from a meeting in Next State Up, going a reasonable 65-70 in the middle lane of the freeway, when a light-colored sedan flew by me in the slow lane. Both G and I commented on it immediately, it was going that fast, on a fairly crowded freeway, must have been at least 85 or 90. G had been saying earlier that evening that she was going to learn to drive this year, so we talked a bit about how not to drive, and how fast he was going.

After a few sentences of that conversation, we went back to our previous conversation for a few sentences, maybe 30 seconds, a minute, and all of a sudden the traffic was stopped. "What the hell," I said, and then we both realized there was an accident, and as quickly realized it must have been him (why the gender assumption?). There were three cars on the side, the middle one a light-colored sedan, and first I thought that was it, but then we saw people getting out of their cars and looking over the guardrail. G saw a piece of car on the side of the road. I think he went right off the road and over the edge.

We didn't stop. There was nothing we could do, it was late and we wanted to be home, the idea was too upsetting. We called 911, G on my phone, and me chattering at her: which freeway, which exit, what we saw. They said other calls were coming in and they took G's phone number. We tried to remember how high up that part of the freeway is. There were tops of trees.

I dropped G off and went home. There was nothing on the news, nothing in the paper this morning, I can't find anything online. How do you find out what happened? Sometimes I wonder if it even happened. I know we saw it, but did he really go over the guardrail, when we'd just seen him speeding down the road? Did those people getting out of their cars try and rescue him before help came? Is he in the hospital? Dead? Did he have a family? Was there anyone else in the car? Why was he driving so fast?

All we know is what happened right before and right after.

The briefest intersection of lives, and ours just go on.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Guest Post from E

[Assignment: December is the 12th month of the year. Then we start again with January. But what if there were a 13th month? What would it be called? What holidays would be in it? Write a description of the 13th month and use your imagination!]

The 13th month of the year is Docomenty. It is in a one month season called Waling. A hallidays in it is Hassover. At Hassover you get presents and celebrate the jews leiving Egipt. In Docomenty you expect weather of all kinds. In this particyular month every one celebrates their birthday for the second time that year.

What Is Worse Than Being Rejected for a Job?

Being rejected for a job you didn't apply for.

(Actually, it's probably not worse in a real life sort of way, as, not having applied, there would be no investment in the job itself, but it truly is a deeply existential kind of rejection: to not be desired even by those you had no thought might desire you.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hair, Alas

It has been three and a half weeks now, and the time has come to accept the fact that I hate my haircut. I have blowdried and airdried. I have combed, brushed, and barretted. I have raked my hand through my hair countless times a day, in fruitless attempts to casually rearrange. And still I feel hideous.

Mind you, only one person has even noticed I got my hair cut (that was you, J, wasn't it?). Which means either that I am fundamentally hideous, and have only just noticed it, or this is all in my head, which even I can admit is most likely the case. Nevertheless, my head is an inseparable element of myself, psychically and materially, so I must live with its illusions, no matter how untethered from reality they may be.

What is it I hate? I'm not quite sure. The right side is OK, the layers blend in fine, but the left side seems too choppy, almost shelved. As usual, the bottom layer seems to be cut awkwardly right into a wave, though if that is the usual, perhaps my hair awkwardly half-waves right where it is cut? At any rate, the length (just above my shoulders), though what I asked for, seems completely uninteresting and in no way flattering.

Could part of the problem simply be winter with its inevitable pallor, and it's not-so inevitable, but nonetheless present, cold sore at the edge of my mouth, the one that had two delicate friends this weekend delicately gesture at me to indicate that I had food on my mouth? Uh, no, that is reddened and inflamed skin, slowly puckering into whitish scab. Attractive, eh?

But back to the hair. I fear there is nothing to be done, because this is really as short as I go, so the thought of "fixing" it which would inevitably, I assume, entail going shorter, is absolutely impossible. I suppose I must wait for growth, which may in itself prove an improvement, but then will come the inevitable (can you tell how doomed I'm feeling, from all these inevitables?) decision about the haircutter.

I quite like the haircutter, she's very nice, and we've just followed her to a new salon, and, most importantly, she does an absolutely fabulous job on M and E, you just can't imagine how adorable they both look (don't they? really, they do! M has this super bob, shingled in the back and curving around her chin in the front, and E's is shoulder-length with a bit of a layer, and they both look so great, even in winter). So can I keep taking them to the haircutter, without getting my own hair cut? Or do I sacrifice my vanity on the altar of my children's appearance? And how would I even find a new haircutter? I've had so many and they never get it right. Oh, the woes...

Maybe I should just drink a lot of vodka and cover the mirrors till spring.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Groupie Lit

Had I been of age in the 60s or 70s, I most surely would have been something hopelessly earnest: a CND campaigner or a Redstocking, something of that sort. But I've always yearned to be a rocker chick It Girl, preferably in London between 1962 and 1967, when life appears to have been heavenly, at least for those of the rocker chick It Girl ilk. Since this transfiguration seems unlikely, historically and temperamentally, I satisfy my yearnings by reading, of course (movies, too, but it always comes back to books) (why not music? because the music is always there, but it's accessing the life that transfixes me).

Some recent reads:

Pattie Boyd, Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me
The ultimate Swinging Sixties It Girl, Boyd was married to Harrison (oh my god is he dreamy, but he sounds, ultimately, like quite the asshole) and Clapton (does very little for me) (she is the subject [object?] of Harrison's "Something" and Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight"--can you imagine?!). Her memoir is completely delightful, in that deadpan kind of way where remarkable things just keep happening: So then I finished school and moved to London and started working for Elizabeth Arden and someone suggested I model so I became a model and then I was asked to be in a Beatles movie and George asked me out to dinner and I became his girlfriend and we had to hide from fans and we got married and went to India and Eric fell in love with me and we were all tormented, etc. I mean, why doesn't such interesting drama happen so effortlessly to me? Really, a lot of it was quite grim as George became a tortured Indian mystic and Eric was a hopeless drug addict and alcoholic, but the book is endless entertaining, not just for the stars, but also for the social milieu, and for the reminder of how close colonialism was to the 60s--just a single generation, at least for the Boyds. Highly recommended.

Pamela Des Barres, Let's Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies
Pamela Des Barres, former GTO and ultimate groupie, is all about reclaiming the idea of the groupie as not a rockstar-loving sex fiend, but a powerful muse figure who is all about the music. It pretty much works in her first book, I'm With the Band, which is quite excellent, in a similar vein to Wonderful Tonight, but here she tries to expand the argument in a series of interviews with other famous (or infamous, or, alas, not really so famous as she and they think they are) groupies. Cynthia Plaster Caster is here, and hers is an interesting story that nicely twists the Miss Pamela thing, but eventually the book devolves into a series of sad sex tales which, while titillating and gossipy, hardly elevate the groupie, but rather make her look quite pathetic and victimized, even as Des Barres vehemently attempts to claim the opposite. I skimmed the last third, only so that, when I wrote this post, I could be certain I hadn't missed some last-page revelation. I hadn't. Skip this one.

Michelle Tea, The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America
Not a groupie book at all, except that I was quite surprised, after reading Boyd and Des Barres, to open Tea and find her, on the first page, hanging outside the Orpheum waiting for the INXS bus to arrive, then watching the other girls throw themselves at the band, half-wishing she was like them, but also proud not to be. Anyway, this memoir is outstandingly great, and I am so embarassed that I've never read Tea before, just read about her. It's got class, sex, punks, prostitution, alienation, feminism, Boston, Cape Cod, Tucson, endless paragraphs, italicized and Capitalized dialogue, the late 80s and early 90s, emotional intensity and intellectual distance, really it is just fabulous, and perhaps the opposite of Wonderful Tonight in tone, even as they mine the same generic ore?? Read it!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

NY Times on Gawker

I found this article interesting in a very small way, partly because it does reflect my experiences, in a very small way. I used to read Gawker occasionally, never obsessively, but I haven't looked at in months. I'm one of those people who switched to Jezebel, but I also got bored with the obsession with minor NY celebritrons I'd never heard of. Tina Brown gossip? I can raise some interest. Julia Allison? None at all (and I had to go to the New York Gawker article, which I read when it came out, to even remember her name).

Shifting from content to form, the other thing that interested me in this article was* the gratuitious high life references, including the fact that the most recent Gawker editor decided to quit "during a vacation at a house on Fire Island in November," and Tina Brown was interviewed "by telephone from her apartment before leaving for a cocktail party." Clearly the Style section has long aspired to be Tatler, but if the goal of mainstream paper media is to garner readers and revenue, I'm not quite sure what these kinds of references accomplish. They don't make us want to be or have, like fashion articles, wedding announcements, and ads for fancy apartments. Nor do they offer any insight into the people or topics at hand, except to let us know that these are high end people. Do we feel ourselves high end because we are reading about people who vacation on Fire Island and go to cocktail parties? Maybe that's it. But I'm thinking that Tina Brown is high end enough, and we already know she goes to cocktail parties, at least if we're the kind of people who read articles about Gawker in the Style section which, alas, we seem to be. I suppose it comes down to where I started: the gratuitous, which is, I suppose, the definition of the Style section, so maybe I shouldn't even be noticing these references.

You could call this a post in which criticial consciousness accomplishes nothing.

*I am agonizing about this "was." The subject of the sentence seems to be "the other thing that interested me," i.e. singular, hence "was," but it just doesn't sound right. I could change it to "I was also interested in," or "the gratuitous high life references were the other thing that interested me," but I like the rest of the sentence as it is, so I will just have to continue in what appears to be grammatical purgatory.

Did You Lose Faith?

There were times when I did too.

But [drum roll, please], perserverance and hard work have their rewards. Sometimes.

I have finished Clapotis.

In its honor, I present what may be the first ever photos on this blog, highly likely also to be the last.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Carter for President?

Because Kelly is the send-a-link type, not the post-a-link type, I give you, courtesy of Kelly, Jimmy Carter on the current campaign. (Read it, Mom, it will be the second thing that cheers you up this week.)

After Wallace Stevens

The Idea of Order at My House

It is, for the most part, an idea.

Different Strokes for Different Kids

It's Amanda Eyre Ward's turn to get slammed as a narcissistic mom at Salon. Not quite sure how I feel about this: I like Ward and know a little bit about where she's coming from, and she's not the class avatar so many of the letters set her up to be, but on the other hand privileged white maternal whining without overtly articulated consciousness of privilege is kind of like Gloria Steinem arguing that women have it worst bar none, i.e. been there, done that, already proven inadequate.

That said, what interests me more than Ward's whine and the personal attacks it engenders are the arguments in the letters about the gist of her piece, that is, the viability of traveling with small children. With regard to that gist, I am in the pro camp. At my old job, I spent a fair amount of time in Europe, all of it with M, and then with M and E. There was a lot of settling in one place while Mommy worked, and then there was some traveling, and my kids thrived in all conditions. Over the years, we've developed child-friendly travel routines, which I think have a lot to do with our success, but I'm sure it also has to do with our kids being travel-ready kids, i.e. flexible and...well, I'm not sure what else, but my point is that some of it must be inherent. But just because it worked for us doesn't mean it would work for everyone.

I don't see why people are so invested in things being Good for Kids or Bad for Kids. Beyond the basics of adequate sleep, food, and exercise, couldn't it be that different things are good for different kids? Travel works for some kids and not for others? Ditto unlimited screen time, scary movies, consistent bedtimes, attachment parenting, public school, etc. et al?

Or maybe in this era of compulsive parenting, people feel impelled to defend their own choices, even, or perhaps especially, when they are talking about someone else, and thus ambiguity, possibility, and complexity inevitably erode.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Reading the Past

I've been reading a lot lately, as I tend to do when I have lots of work, but also there have been lots of things I want to read, mainly memoirs, and, oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, they have much overlap and are starting to blur together. Not so oddly because I do tend toward the bohemian lost soul memoir of the female persuasion, though sometimes just bohemian, sometimes just lost soul, but almost always female. The coincidence that was not planned at all, as one would expect, given that it is coincidence, is that several of these books take place in places I've been round about the times I was there, and it's an interesting experience to revisit my own social geography, though I was never quite so bohemian or lost, though the scheme of things and relativity come into play here, as some people find me quite bohemian and lostish, well, not lost so much, as, hmm, angst-ridden, perhaps, but I feel, on the whole, quite mainstream and privileged, especially compared to the people about whom I like to read, and of whom I often feel jealous, though it is quite unacceptable to be jealous of people's hardships, yet hardship often comes with a good helping of apparent glamour, which is always quite irresistible to me. The other thing that strikes me is the difference technology and wealth have made over hardly a generation. The 60s, 70s, 80s which so fully shaped me were, really, as different from now as pre-automobile or jet plane. To plan to meet someone in a foreign city on a certain day and have no idea whether they would be there or how you would find them: I did this, but now it would never happen because you'd be popping into internet cafes or even opening up your laptop to track your exact coordinates several times a day. Going to the same place every day to find your friends--no longer any need, for we have our cell phones. And then there's the way cities have changed to the point that I have no idea what you do if you're young and need a cheap apartment. All the funky corners we lived in, the group houses and dingy apartments and mattresses on the floor: now all gentrified and condos and rich blond people with Bugaboos. And I wonder, does it really matter to remember all that?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hypocrisy, Winter, and Screen Time

What M does on the computer: homework, incessant email and IM with friends, read People and Go Fug Yourself, listen to music on YouTube, play endless Stardoll.

What E does on the computer: listen to music on iTunes (mainly Hairspray soundtrack), play games (varieties of solitaire, checkers, chess), Playhouse Disney and regular Disney, occasionally PBSKids (used to do a lot of Webkinz, but eventually forgot about it, and then her Webkin expired--now there's a topic for a blog post...)

What S does on the computer: music (downloading, uploading, ordering, guitar tabs, GarageBand, numerous blogs I've never heard of), food (Epicurious, blogs, etc.), email, news, work.

What I do on the computer: work, email, blog, read blogs, NY Times, People, Jezebel, Weboggle, google everyone I encounter.

There are currently three laptops. My lemon, which lives on the chair in the living room, on the dining room table, or in my bag. My old dying laptop which is on the desk in the dining room, used by the girls. S's new MacBook which alternates between kitchen and dining room tables.

For a long time, the screen time rule has been half an hour per girl, OK to share, computer or TV. Homework doesn't count. But does listening to music count? How about listening to YouTube videos while playing Stardoll? Listening to the Hairspray soundtrack, yet again, while dancing? What about listening to the Hairspray soundtrack, yet again, while staring at the playlist? Checking email? IMing? When I was 12, I would talk on the phone for two hours, but it wasn't screen time. Is IMing the equivalent of talking on the phone or PlayhouseDisney?

Let's leave television out of this. There isn't a lot of television these days, and what there is is usually the Hairspray DVD, yet again. Anyway, it's easy to clock half an hour of television.

I spend a lot of time grumpily telling people to get off computers. But I spend a lot of time on computers, often grumpily, not because I have to be on the computer, though often I do, but because I am annoyed with myself for being on the computer. Why? Why do I tell myself that I won't check email till bedtime, and do it anyway? Like telling myself I won't eat any more chips, and doing it anyway. Better to just eat as many chips as I want and then stop.

In summer, we go bike riding and to the pond and the playground. We go for walks and to play hide-and-seek in the graveyard. The girls play in the driveway for hours. But it's winter.

The last two nights we've played Rat-a-Tat-Cat. This evening we had a girls reading party in the bed. And did homework, listened to Hairspray, sent emails, and blogged on the computer.

We are, in general, pretty lax when it comes to restriction. Our kids listen to gangsta rap and Lily Allen. We give them sips of wine and beer and, last night, Bailey's. They watch PG-13 movies and read whatever they want. Violence isn't so much part of our lives, culturally or actually, so that's not a worry, and they, especially M, tend to self-censor, so we tend toward freedom.

And yet the computer brings all my latent Puritanism to the surface. Why?

I'm thinking maybe we should try abandoning screen time limits. I wonder what would happen.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Shout Out to My Best Friend

Happy Birthday K!!!!!!!!!

A Brief Thought on Process

It's way too early for politics, and my day starts at 7 (like, I need to be somewhere functioning at 7, and right now I'm in my pajamas at 6:10), but I'm thinking that those who said the frontloading of the primary process would give us a candidate so early in the process as to disenfranchise the majority of the country (i.e. it would be decided by now, or by Nevada and South Carolina), seem to be wrong. This may be a matter of the candidates and their general attractiveness (on the Democratic side) and unattractiveness (on the Republican side) (yes, my bias shows, but it always does, and I know, Mom, that some people find none of them attractive), but it is also yet another way in which the punditocracy seems to be having its butt kicked daily by this election (I wouldn't deign to count myself in the punditocracy, nor would I want to, but obviously I was wrong on this one too--I'm not thrilled by last night's results, like Postacademic, but very much intrigued, and will be fine with voting for whoever comes out the other end, though I'm still feeling Obama-like for my own primary, which seems like it is going to matter).

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Incomplete Results

Can we please get rid of Mitt Romney already?

I'm fascinated by the NY Times' refusal to call it for Hillary, and by the general pro-Obama spin on their coverage.

I'm going to bed now, and maybe when I wake up, I will discover that they were justified (exit polls, anyone? ha!). But maybe not.

Gloria Steinem

I don't know about you, but she pissed me off. Right at the end of this passage:

So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what.

I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest.

Uh, what were you doing in the previous paragraph, then? Aren't race and sex both still confused with nature by an awful lot of people? Spent any time with poor young black men lately? I have, and they've got it a lot worse than an awful lot of women, which is not to say that an awful lot of women don't have it bad, and not to say that I'm not still a knee-jerk feminist (I know: too many nots lead to knots), but is to say that calling gender over race does not work in this day and age.

For a compelling feminist defense of Hillary, try Katha Pollitt in this month's Elle. For more of the same old-fashioned women-are-always-the-most-wronged white feminism, you're welcome to stick with Steinem. But I'll pass.

Nicolas and Carla

Like I said, I'm totally down with romance between the president of France and Carla Bruni, but marriage? Three months after his divorce? When they appear to have been dating for, at most, several weeks? I mean, if they've been having an affair for the last three years and are finally free to marry because of his divorce, that's one thing (and a very French thing at that). But would one really want a president who would make such a major decision so rashly? Because I'm not much of a believer in love at first sight. Or rather, I believe that true love can withstand the wait. In order not to look ridiculous in the eyes of the entire world. Which seems like a good thing (see previous post). On the other hand, we're talking Carla Bruni: talented babe who is clearly an object of desire. Maybe he wants to make it official before Keith steals her away (I know, the link is Mick, but I'm trying to make a parallel).

At any rate, it is hugely more entertaining that Hillary's tears, so I suppose I should just embrace l'amour and vive la compagnie!

Monday, January 07, 2008


I predict McCain and Obama. And I'm just about ready to drink the Obama Kool-Aid. My rationale? One of the worst of the many terrible things Bush has done over the last seven years is ruin our global reputation; electing Obama would be a step toward restoring it, on a symbolic basis, at least, and hopefully on a practical basis as well. (Other factors: I'm impressed by the turn-out and voters he drew in Iowa; the policy differences between Edwards, Clinton, and Obama aren't enough to make me feel strongly--if I were strictly voting my politics, I'd have to go with Kucinich, and that is not going to happen [sorry, Mom, but you knew that]; Edwards' histrionics are starting to make me trust him less; Hillary...well, I have that feminist ambivalence to some degree, but I just don't like the poll-watching opacity of her politics, as I've said before.)

Recent Notes

A Big Deal (That Fizzled): Today M took the bus to the end of the line in City where she met me (coming in from East Coast Big City) to shop for beads for her Egypt project. She has taken the bus home from City once, but that time her grandmother put her on the bus, and our bus stop is half a block from home. This was big time independent traveling, and she aced it. Unfortunately, the bead store was closed. But we did get ice cream next door. And then we remembered that there is a bead store at the other end of Town. So we took the bus home, got in the car, and got the beads.

A Horticultural Marvel: I have kept a cyclamen alive for a month. It even has new blossoms. If you know me well, you are amazed. If you don't know me well enough to be amazed, I will just tell you that this is the only live plant in our home, and there has not been a live plant in our home for several years, and you should be amazed.

A New Policy: E's complaints that I work all the time are registering. I don't want my kids to feel that way, and I don't want to be that way. While I feel that the impression has already been impressed (and is not precisely accurate, not that that matters), I have decided to try not to work while I'm with them in the afternoon and evening, not even to check my email. Given that I could work from the moment I wake up till the (late) moment I go to bed, this is probably as good for me as it is for them. Today I made dinner, read the paper, cleaned the kitchen, knitted, supervised and assisted with homework, and discussed various school and life issues. It was very pleasant for all, and I hope to maintain the practice.

A New Means of Self-Deprecation: One of the many ways I constantly compare myself with others (and generally come up lacking) is by looking at accomplishment relative to age. I have accepted that I will no longer be a child prodigy or a twentysomething phenomenon, and I know that Dave Eggers, Scarlett Johannson, and Venus Williams have it all over me. But when I realized that Obama was 46, I felt, once again, like a failure. And then I discovered this. Some other things I have not done by my age are discover Uranus, receive my second Nobel prize, pitch a no-hitter, and go over a waterfall in a barrel. I am singularly unimpressed with myself.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Flash Cards

E decided she wanted to make flash cards. I suggested Spanish or math. She came up with this:

Daddy/best person in family (apart from me)
E/best person in world

(There is also a sign on the door of my room that says "unsupportive mom's room." All this because I said she deserved it when M hit her after she had been tormenting M for 15 minutes straight.)

Another Friday Night Movie Failure

How can you go wrong with Clueless? If you forget the party scene where everyone gets stoned and the scene where Cher gets mugged in the parking lot, that's how.

If you want lessons on how to make your kids hate movies, just give me a call.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Morning After

When I saw those Obama kids up on the podium with their parents, I have to admit I teared up a little. I'm still skeptical of his power to deliver, but I do like his wife. An Obama-Richardson ticket? Hmm...

Thursday, January 03, 2008


My inner distanced intellectual and politics junkie were prepared for anyone to win Iowa. But now that Obama seems to have it, my inner emotional liberal is thunderstruck by the idea that a BLACK man just won the IOWA caucus!!!!!!!! Could we really be living in the future?

Winter and Work

I was strangely pleased today, as I drove around town, to see so many Christmas lights still up. In this odd half week, they allow me to feel that we are not quite launched into the core of winter, when all there is to do is work and be cold and wait for the warmth and light to return.

For the next five months, I have more work than I can imagine doing, though reality will trump imagination and I will inevitably do it. Starting out on my own, I can't say no, especially when I'm offered good work that I want to do, and that will advance me toward places I want to be. I did, in my last non-festive act on December 31, quit one gig that gave me some fun, little money, and no visibility. In turn, on January 2, I picked up a piece that will be interesting, good money, and possibily very useful in moving me forward, so it feels as if, for the moment, my planets are aligned.

For the last few days, I felt boggled by what lies ahead, especially because I spent yesterday in a day-long meeting that was not productive until the last hour. But today I went to work, where I work on Tuesday and Thursday, and it was good, and I had some spare time to get organized for tomorrow, and everything started to seem more manageable. I am trying not to work in the afternoons and evenings when I'm alone with the girls, so when I got home with them, around 3:30, I attended to their snack/homework/Mommy needs and read the paper. I'd planned to work while they swam, but my library books were just too attractive, so I read instead, but that was only possible because, really, once I am actually doing the work, everything seems manageable.

When I work all day and get things done, mother effectively, and even have time to read, I feel like I am competently managing a life I love, even if it's cold outside.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

On Chesil Beach

George Eliot meets Nicholson Baker on "Dover Beach."

Oh, I would be such a better blogger if I could just leave it at that, but, alas, I have more to say. I do think Ian McEwan is a spectacular novelist, probably one of the best writing in English at this point. Atonement is pretty much a perfect novel, such that I pretty much refuse to see the movie. Saturday...what DID I think of Saturday? Looks like I did not blog it, but I recall finding it impressive but not as emotionally gripping as Atonement.

For the first 100 or so pages of On Chesil Beach, which is quite a small book, literally, and somewhat figuratively, I was once again impressed, even dazzled. McEwan just knows how to do it: create fully realized characters through the details, historicize the personal and personalize the historic, manipulate time in service of narrative, embody location, nuance emotion and intellect: really, he's got the novelistic toolkit down. But even then, I was a little wary of, well, how the toolkit showed. At a party this afternoon, I was saying to a friend that I just wanted to go home and read my novel--that was about 100 pages in--and I described the book to her as impeccable but cold.

That was the George Eliot paragraph. Next comes the Nicholson Baker paragraph.

I returned to the book in the evening, and most of the second half totally bogged down. Saturday is, inherently (it is about a single day in the life of a neurosurgeon), obsessively detailed. Joyce, of course, would be the other point of comparison, especially for On Chesil Beach, but perhaps it is the subject matter that recalls Baker, crossing The Mezzanine with Vox (sorry, just too lazy to link tonight), in one of the longest, most-detailed descriptions of failed sex in literary history. I mean, it's a virtuouso performance, but who needs it?

At the end, especially, thematically, on the final page, we get to "Dover Beach," sort of--the complexities of "Dover Beach" are such that I cannot parse the comparison sufficiently, but suffice to say there is love, being true, and the shingle, so we're definitely in the neighborhood--and really the novel is quite wonderful again, sketching 40 years, plausibly, in a few pages and pointing to the influence of a single moment's near-inadvertent choice (a hint of Prufrock?).

At any rate, I'm pleased to have begun the year by reading a novel in a day, which I can't remember when I did last--and I also went to yoga and a party, made risotto, and dealt with a problem, so I suppose that's a good first day of the year, though the problem not so much.

And so to bed.

Edited to add: OK, not quite to bed, but I also meant to say that the cause of Florence's issues was also of the look-how-subtle-I'm-being school of novelistic virtuosity, in that it is totally obvious, but would be totally easy to miss, in the same way that so many contemporary readers miss intimations of pregnancy in 19th-century novels.

Edited again to add: Lethem's review is quite great, making some similar points, but fully celebratory--I do remember reading it, and thinking, I want to read that book, though my desire was also whetted by the
New Yorker excerpt. Kakutani is positively vicious, unnecessarily, I would say. Yardley is the antithesis of Kakutani; as with Lethem, I find myself more in his camp in describing the novel, but not assessing it. OK, I could clearly do this for a while, but I doubt anyone cares, and really I must go to bed, because real life resumes tomorrow (8:10 for kids, 9:30 for me).

Edited once more to add: I think now I must go back to old McEwan of which, shamefully, I have read virtually nothing, though I did see the movie of
The Cement Garden. AND NOW TO BED.

2008 Goal


(There is also a work goal, which will go unblogged, for the usual reasons. Last year there were two work goals, both achieved. The personal goal was to not weigh myself for a year, which was also achieved, and has now shifted from goal to practice: I weigh myself once a year, and I highly recommend it.)

(Due I suspect in part to the cathartic effect of venting negative anticipation en blog, New Year's Eve turned out quite delightfully, though it was one of those exercises in selflessness by which the pleasure comes--and it is true pleasure, which means it was probably an experience, rather than an exercise--from enabling the pleasure of others. M, E, and their friend A-R [daughter of the sadly incapacitated Lucy] were having so much fun that it was impossible not to have fun with them. There was sushi, carefully ordered by M and A-R; homemade disco balls; a dance party; The Princess Diaries; There's No Business Like Show Business; the ball dropping; Fergie; knitting; and even a little vodka. Today there were very tired girls.)