Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Today (Subtext: Habermas)

This morning I quit a job I just got that was already proving impossible. I'm pretty pleased: I agonized for about a day, S told me I had to quit, and then I just did it, with significant grace and pleasantry on both sides. And then I was glad I'd done it, though it means significant financial loss. Then again, getting the job was a pleasant surprise, so really I'm right back where I was a month ago, before the job suddenly materialized, and back then I was fine.

In other news, all you Mac fans, I so don't buy it. My lemon computer has gone kaput once again, and I have really an unbelievably huge and important deadline tomorrow. Luckily all relevant pieces are accessible in gmail, and S has been a total saint trying to set it up for me to get to everything on the Mac--no Office on the Mac, so he installed OpenOffice, but the documents are not opening correctly, plus I can't find anything on the Mac, which is probably my problem, or perhaps a result of the Mac featuring S's organizational logic (i.e. no logic, though it works for him), but at any rate the whole thing is stressing me out, so I'm giving up and going to my mother's tomorrow to work on her PC, where everything makes sense.

But really I wanted to take up the challenge of Jackie's post today--not the birthday party part, I'm all about outsourcing birthday parties, M's next month will be at the rock-climbing gym, but the recent events about which she had nothing to say...I'm going to try to say something.

Austrian basement incest - I said to my friend M today, "So what do we make of this? Is this pure evil? Can we find a cause?" and he said that it was just so far out there, there was no point in analysis. Which I think is true. I mean, this really is perhaps the most outrageous thing ever, outside of Pol Pot, Hitler, Rwanda, and all that, which is to say, in the private sphere. 24 years? In the basement? Seven children? And how many women have tried to imagine going through labor alone in the basement seven times? Just beggars the imagination.

Texas polygamy - The children should not have been taken from their mothers. Period. Total insanity on the part of the law and social services.

Yale abortion artist - OK, about this, I have nothing to say except YUCK--whether she actually did it or made it up...

Miley Cyrus - First instinct: what the hell is with the power of Disney and branding that she needs to go out and abjectly (and fakely) apologize for something she obviously chose to do that is not really a big deal. Shades of Obama and Reverend Wright (if you can't make the connection, I'm sorry, I'm too stressed out by the Mac to do it for you, but take my word for it, it's there). Second instinct: who are the parents who are so dependent on the media machine that they would either 1) allow their small children to see half-naked pictures of Miley, or 2) not be able to negotiate Miley's half-naked pictures with their older children. Third non-instinct: should I be upset that a fifteen year old is taking half-naked pictures in Vanity Fair? i.e. sexualizing young girls, etc.? Maybe, but I'm just not. I'm really much more disgusted by the post-picture hypocrisy on all sides, except for Annie Leibovitz.

Really, all this--mainly the conjoined media furor over Miley and Reverend Wright, plus the wrongheaded actions of Texas judicial and social services--is making me feel a strong desire to abandon the public sphere altogether and just do my work, read novels, and hang out with my kids. Of course all three of those necessarily engage the public sphere, and clearly today's news shows that the private sphere has its own demons, but, oh, politics and media, I wish I knew how to quit you...

(Sorry about the lack of links...blame the Mac stress.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Dogwoods, L

Though it's miserably cold and rainy again, last week was so warm and sunny we could watch spring arrive like a time-lapse film, each new bud, flower, and leaf appearing, and then moving right to the next stage, even as we paused to appreciate it. This morning I saw a dogwood tree just opened into flower, the notched petals still curling in, barely greenish. Of course dogwood makes me think of L. It was her favorite flower, her wedding band a circlet of blossoms. And thinking of L made me realize it was 24 years ago that she died, some time in these few weeks, maybe these few days. I remember it was Passover. I was home from college and I went to the hospital to say goodbye, and I told my dad he had to go to the hospital to say goodbye. Then I went back to college, and then she died, and I came back home for the funeral.

L's death is one of the few things in my personal life (let's leave out the war, etc.) about which I can say: if this hadn't happened it would be better. Period. My parent's divorce? Worked out for the best for everyone. Professional choices I've made and regretted? Made me a better person, made other parts of my life possible, and laid the groundwork for better things to come. But L's death? Completely irredeemable. And made everything completely different. Like this weekend. If L were alive, my weekend would have been different. Of course now it's been so long, and so much has unfolded, that to think of L not having died would mean, for instance, to think, probably, of her grandchildren, these particular grandchildren, not having been born, which is, of course, unthinkable, now that they are here and delightful and part of our existence. Still, if I could wish one thing different (again, putting aside the war, etc.) it would be for L not to have died.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Babysitter Ethics

I know there's been much discussion of the ethics of stealing your friend's babysitter (basically bad karma--I had a friend who did it to me, and I was not happy), but what if your babysitter recommends a friend when she can't make it, and then your kids like the friend better than the original babysitter?

There should be some kind of joke that can be produced out of the chiasmus of friend's babysitter and babysitter's friend.

Why I Love British Newspapers

Actually, I love all newspapers, which is quite tragic, given that newspapers will disappear within the very near future, and I will be the one remaining mourner. But British newspapers are particularly excellent, first because there are so many of them and they so thoroughly satisfy all desires, from the lowest of low to the starchiest of starch (OK, went here and here, and I guess none of them are that starchy any more, but the idea of them is starchy), not to mention loony left (S's preferred read, and one of my political go-tos, though I tend toward the liberal upscale--we usually end up buying both, and then reading the tabs on the Tube), but also because their content is so excellently varied, in such an excellently British way (read low/starchy/left/upscale, not to mention...well, let's just get to the example already).

I ended up with a copy of today's Observer and the Food Monthly epitomizes the brilliant olio that is the British newspaper, with articles on whether food is better than sex, what Palestinians and other refugees eat, and stoned hippie traveler food (absolutely right on the banana pancakes: ubiquitous whether you're in Lamu, Goa, or Kathmandu). Can you even imagine one of those articles in the NY Times on Wednesday, let alone all of them?!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Vacations in the Buff

I'm totally down with topless sunbathing, skinnydipping, and wandering around the house or field naked, but nude yoga? I have to say, that has approxiately zero appeal--both the doing and the having it done around me.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Thoughts On Seeing Little Women Again

The Winona Ryder version.

- The unnecessary rearrangement of scenes, addition of superfluous scenes, and intrusion of Jo's first-person narrative are unnecessary.

- As is turning Marmee into Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

- Winona is woefully miscast, Trini Alvarado looks all wrong (was she a miniature Andie MacDowell, or what?), Claire Danes is not what one would expect but really quite plausible, and Kristen Dunst is ideally Amy, to one's somewhat surprise.

- I'd forgotten how much I ADORE Eric Stoltz. I always thought he was just the perfect man for me (sorry, S), in real life and in his movie persona, though of course who knows what he was like in real life, but it was such a powerful movie persona, all those weird indie movies and of course his brilliant turn as Jamie's ex on Mad About You, another of my all-time favorite TV shows, up there with 90210, which might be considered the antithesis of Eric Stoltz, though I could have imagined him on Melrose Place, but at any rate John Brooke is not his best role ever (and what's with the anachronistic make-out scene in the doorway, not to mention the maypole-esque wedding scene--see my first point), but it's nice to see him and remember how much I liked him and wonder whatever happened to him...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Still More on Hillary and Feminist Generations

The commenters here are much more articulate than I am. The bottom line is, as Rebecca Traister said last week, in another intelligent article about which I believe I wrote a blog post which I then deleted, because, well, I don't know, probably because I have been feeling the superfluity of my input into all things blogospherical: It is possible to see very clearly how much sexism Hillary has faced on this campaign trail and still not want to vote for her. And, for god's sake, if she is the nominee, we all will vote for her; we just don't think she's the be-all and end-all of politics, feminist or not.

I do not know why I am so wrought up about all this today. Actually, I do know, and if I would just get on with what I'm supposed to be doing, I would be able to let go.

I should really bite my tongue today

but I just read Linda Hirshman's latest bashing-younger-women screed at Slate (I know, I'm a few days behind the times), and, god, I'm just so tired of all this (see previous post). Lots of older feminists are remarkable, ground-breaking heroines, and yet, I'm sure I'm not the only one who has personal experience of older feminists who seem determined to eat their young, that being us (and my god, I'm not even young!). But I'll bite my tongue on the anecdotal response, and I will just give you Hirshman's mindblowingly obtuse penultimate paragraph:

I've never been much for pop-psychologizing, but perhaps the yo-mamma feminist rebellion is an attempt by young women to similarly free themselves from their identification with the mother. If so, it's a great argument for shared childrearing, but it still makes for lousy politics. Following Chodorow's reasoning, just for argument, men are free to stand on the shoulders of their fathers, who weren't around all that much, without psychological consequence. And so they do. Liberal and conservative. Al Gore and Al Gore, the Bushes, unto the fourth generation, the Harold Ickes, the unbreakable Kristols, Norman and John ("Normanson") Podhoretz. Only women seem to need to separate and destroy in order to start all over again with each generation.

Hello?!?! Have you ever read Harold Bloom? Freud???? Our current war...has it not resulted from our idiot president's determination not to be his father? And the idea that young women today are the first to rebel against their mothers? What was the second wave of the feminist movement but an enormous round of mother bashing? (OK, it was a lot more than that, but surely that was an enormous component.) So you were allowed to reject your mothers, but we are not allowed to question you????

(And, you know, the ridiculous thing is that I believe I was kind of pro-Linda Hirshman back when all the mommy bloggers were going nuts on her...why yes, so I was, but the rhetoric then and now is a huge problem, and I don't see why someone so smart can't see that.)

This Shit Just Makes Me Tired

How can a new imprint call itself Every Woman's Voice and open with a stable of authors that looks like this?

(No need to answer the question: obviously any imprint that would call itself Every Woman's Voice in this day and age would have a stable of authors that looked like that...)

(Can I tell you how hard it is, sometimes, to defend feminism and all that it has come to stand for?!) (By which really I mean Feminism, the capital letter signalling mainstream middle-class white feminism, i.e. when Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem go nuts on women who don't support Hillary, etc. I still insist that feminism is more capacious than the media and some of its progenitrixes would have it, but, like I said, sometimes it's hard to make the case.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Does the Thought Count?

Lately I've been dealing with people who have the best intentions in the world but screw up and, you know, I'm kind of over it. At a certain point, results matter.

Except, I'm hoping not in the Passover arena.

We are kind of casually hardcore when it comes to Passover. We put all the chametz in the basement, we drink wine instead of beer, and, within our self-chosen confines (and believe you me we've got rice and coldy peas with us in those confines), we do our best to observe. Of course we give the kids a choice, but basically once they turn five or six, they choose to try. This year M is far away in an exciting place, so she decided not to do it, which is totally fine with us, but E is going for it, which means lots of matza, eggs, and avocado. Fine, fine, fine.

Yesterday, my sister, E, L, and I went on a very fun expedition for which I even prepared: backpack, matza, cheese, apples, water bottle. I knew we'd get snacks, but I wanted to make sure we had food we could eat. So E ate the apple and we ate our matza and cheese. Then we had some French fries. Then we did some more fun stuff. Then we had ice cream. All well and good.

We came home. My sister napped. The girls played. I worked.

My sister got up, came into the living room, and asked, "Are we observing Passover?"

"Well, yeah," I said.

"The cones!" she stage whispered, dramatically.

The cones. The cones in which we had ordered the ice cream, without a second thought.

S says at least they're flat.

We didn't tell the kids.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cake Postscript

I'm big on separating needs and wants, but I do believe that I NEED an extra bowl for the KitchenAid, because when you have to beat both yolks and whites, and then fold, you end up using both the KitchenAid and the hand mixer, as well as three bowls, though I can't quite explain the three bowls, and it seems like it would make so much sense if there were just two bowls for the KitchenAid, though writing that last post seems to have boggled my mind, and I can't quite explain why.

It's All About the Technique (Not a Blow Job Post)

I don't know why I persist in baking new cakes, despite the accumulation, by now, of a substantive repertoire of chocolate deliciousness for all occasions. Perhaps that persistence is related to my penchant for new projects, new running routes, and new vacation spots. Ironically, the one arena in which I am prone to repetition is food: I could eat nothing but bread and butter for weeks in a row, and at the restaurants I return to again and again, I always order the same thing. Although, come to think of it, I like the same vacation spots as much as I like the new ones, so perhaps there is no determining thread, and I should just get to the cakes.

Passover was approaching, and despite past successes (did you say Chocolate Meringue Truffle Cake?), I was once again poring over the cookbooks I've already read dozens of times. And a good thing too, because I found something new: Joan Nathan's Prince Albert Cake.

My aunt in Israel always bakes the same things. There is cheesecake and N's cake and C's cake. C is my dad, and his cake is a chocolate cake in which you bake part of the batter into cake and then you spread the rest of the batter (unbaked) on top of the cake (baked) and it becomes a mousse-like topping. Yum. Now go click on that link. Yes! It seemed as if Joan Nathan's Prince Albert Cake might be C's cake.

Only it wasn't. I emailed my aunt, and she gave me the recipe for C's cake in indecipherable form (list of ingredients in grams, no instructions) but with sufficient information that I could tell Joan Nathan's Prince Albert Cake was not C's cake (for one thing, C's cake has a lot of flour).

Still, it seemed worth trying. But not without searching the internet. First I googled Prince Albert Cake and discovered little of relevance except the Joan Nathan recipe I'd already discovered, which was not promising. Then I did my usual cruise through AllRecipes.com and Epicurious, generically seeking cakes, and found Chocolatissimo, which, strangely, had basically the same ingredients as Prince Albert Cake, but a different technique. What to do?! Try the Prince Albert Cake, as previously resolved.

In the Prince Albert Cake you beat the butter with half the sugar, add the egg yolks one at a time, fold in the melted chocolate, whip the egg whites with the other half the sugar, fold in the egg whites, bake 2/3 of the batter in two pans (the recipe says one 12 x 18 pan, then cut it in half, but who has a 12 x 18 pan?! I baked it in two 9" circles and skipped the cutting in half), chill the other 1/3, then spread the chilled batter between the layers and on top. OK, easy enough, except something just didn't seem right: the batter was pretty ugly and kind of buttery, as in tiny bits of butter. But with grated chocolate on top it looked good, and the first seder guests were satisfied. It was a pretty hefty slab of fudgeness, with a good taste in the mouth and on the tongue, but so sweet that it almost hurt your teeth. The next morning, though, it was better.

Still, I was not satisfied. A good enough cake is not good enough for me. Then I realized that Chocolate Meringue Truffle Torte, which I was thinking of making for the second seder, needed to chill for a full day or night, and it was already noon on Sunday. So I decided to try the Chocolatissimo, which seemed, instinctually, to make more sense, and would let us see what kind of difference baking technique made with the same ingredients.

In the Chocolatissimo, you melt the chocolate with the butter, beat the egg yolks with the sugar (a little more than half the sugar in the Prince Albert, which made a definite difference), fold the chocolate/butter into the egg yolks, whip the egg whites (no sugar), fold in the egg whites, bake 2/3 the batter in one layer, and chill the rest of the batter and spread it on top. At every moment of the process, this cake made total sense (though I did not make total sense, especially when, separating my 14th egg of the weekend, I broke some yolk into the bowl which already held four whites, and then dumped the contaminated whites down the sink, instead of saving them to combine with the four additional yolks I would create, by separating an extra four eggs for the cake, to make the four eggs we would need for the matza kugel, but that's a different story). And this cake...

This cake was phenomenal! It looked beautiful, it tasted delicious, it drew the desired raves and recipe requests, it's going on the record as the Passover cake to make--except S insists that come next year, I'll be looking for new cakes, because that's what I do, regardless of technique.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Simulacrum of a Summer Evening

Picked up E on way home from work, walking. Both of us in t-shirts. She complaining that it was too hot on the playground. Me limping from wearing my shoes over bare feet.

Went for a nice run with M, despite blisters. Wore shorts and t-shirt (different t-shirt) for first time this year.

Fields filled with kids playing soccer and baseball. Bike path filled with bikes.

Left M at baseball field by pond where we ran into a bunch of her friends.

Went home and made dinner while E, revived from her playground pain by TV, popcorn, and coldy peas (don't worry, we didn't leave her home alone, T was here to refill popcorn and coldy peas), played outside, including hula hooping and tree climbing.

M came home. Ate dinner on front porch. Toddler next door watched us from his window with great fascination and refused to take his bath.

More hula hooping, by M and E.

Girls went to park. Showered.

Waylaid by A and C as I walked through A's backyard on my way to the park to get girls. Sat and chatted as the evening darkened. Girls, with A's M, returned in search of me.

Went to gift-ish store to spend gift certificate. Bought earrings, barrette, lip balm (desperately needed, in a wintry kind of way), mini-reading light for M, little game and bug pins for E.

Italian ice at corner store.

Sox victory.

(It would all be delightful if only--kids finally in bed, cake finally baked, though still in needing of construction--I weren't sitting down to work. Sometimes this consultant thing is just a total drag.)

Patting Your Head and Rubbing Your Tummy

Way back in the day, we used to drink by the river. There were lots of other things to do by the river, and we did most of them, but I have particular physical and visual memories of the drinking, perhaps because I was so bad at it. We drank by the river because it was a nice place to drink, dark and away from things and pretty, in the darkness, but also I suspect, because it was near the liquor store where there was always someone to buy liquor for you. We would walk down the street from the liquor store to the river, and then we would walk along the river, on the dirt path, not the paved sidewalk, till we got to a point where the river was further away from the road, and nobody could see us. But the drinking usually started as soon as we turned away from the street, while we were still walking on the path, and therein the problem lay, because I was utterly incapable of drinking while I walked. Whether it was sips of rum followed by sips of Coke, or slugs of Kahlua (ugh!), if I tried to keep up with my companions, who walked and drank and passed the bottle, I would dribble and spill all over my shirt. If I stopped walking to take a drink, they would tease me, which wasn't a big deal, because I thought it was pretty pathetic too, but still, I was always self-conscious about my incapacities.

This morning I stopped at the corner store to get a Mocha Frappucino--the kind in the bottle--to drink on my way to work. I had to stop walking every time I took a sip. Some deficits do not respond to age and experience.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Price of Food

You know when they ask the presidential candidate how much a gallon of milk costs and the candidate looks blank and guesses $1.78 and then gets slammed for being out of touch with ordinary people's lives? Hmm, I guess they haven't tried that one in this campaign because they're too busy with Bosnian lies and incendiary preachers. But it used to be a staple, and I always used to think, man, I know I'm an ordinary person, but I have no idea what the price of milk is.

Partly, of course, that's because I am an ordinary person of sufficient means such that while I do need to think about how much houses and cars cost, I don't need to worry about paying for groceries. But largely it's because I rarely do the grocery shopping.

I am, however, highly aware of the increasing cost of food right this very minute, because it is a huge issue for the restaurant business. Part of the issue is the cost of gas, of course: pretty much everything a restaurant uses is brought to the restaurant by truck, even if it's the dilapidated pick-up of the organic farmer in the next town. So over a year ago, the cost of bread went up because the bakery is an hour away (what can I say, it's the bakery they wanted), and the gas to get the bread from the bakery to the restaurant rose too much for the bakery to absorb the cost. But now it's the food itself that is becoming exorbitant--down at that bakery, the price of flour is skyrocketing. Some restaurants are serving smaller portions; some are raising prices. S is trying to deal as much as he can by substituting--choosing his fish, his cuts of meat, his groceries very carefully, with the idea of sustaining quality via preparation.

But all this is fluff, compared to children eating two spoonfuls of rice a day in Haiti.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Going Meta in a Somewhat Fragmented Way

[Given that I have vowed to eschew blog angst, I want to make it perfectly clear from the start that this is a blog analysis post, not a blog angst post.]

I was searching through my archives the other day, trying to remember which Passover cake was so good, and I realized that a lot of people who used to read my blog appear no longer to do so. I felt kind of bad, but then I realized that I used to read a lot of blogs that I no longer read--some of them written by my apparently former readers. I also realized, once I started poking around in my archives, that I used to be a better blogger--more interesting, more engaged, funnier.

The problem, I think, with a blog like mine, which is basically generated by my thoughts about stuff that happens and stuff I see, is that eventually it gets to the point where the blogger has said most of what she thinks, and there isn't much point in saying it again (or, by extension, reading it again). I mean, am I really going to come up with anything new to say about Passover this year? Doubtful. And over the last couple of days I've thought of blogging about Manny (nice to see you back, dude) and Ellsbury (was that a great catch or what? and he was so casual about it!) (I actually wrote that one, then deleted it), but, really, haven't I said those things a million times? And is anything gained, for me or my readers, by my saying them yet again?

It seems easier, perhaps--I wouldn't know--for bloggers who write about a single topic or who focus more closely on their daily lives. There is always another book to read, another campaign gaffe to analyze, another Sox game to chronicle, and if you expect that of yourself, and your readers expect that of you, there is a difference: this week in Cleveland was a lot like last October in Cleveland, but it was different too, and if you are paying the right kind of attention, you will always have something new to say. But I'm not: I just want to say, again, "Jacoby Ellsbury is the bomb, I want to be his baby's mom."

In turn, if you are sharing the narrative of your daily life, there's always something new, the denouement of yesterday's developments, the beginning seeds of what will come to fruition next week, whether it is toilet training, garden growing, screenplay writing... This is the universal appeal of narrative.

Or sometimes not. Years ago, I read a woman's diary that had been edited and published by her daughter. I'm not sure it matters that the daughter was a friend of a friend, but at the time it did, because I felt even more guilty for finding the diary so unenlightening. Basically, this woman had a rough life, and she kept resolving to make a change...and then not changing. Over and over. So by the time I got to the umpteenth resolution to change, I just rolled my eyes, because I knew exactly what was (not) coming. I can see why this diary might have been revelatory for the daughter, who could come to some understanding of her personal relationship with a difficult mother, but in that case the motivation for meaning was readerly, and I did not bring that motivation, so the book didn't work for me.

This is all, of course, about the nature of time (when I said meta, I meant meta). Time goes forward--2008, 2009, 2010--but it also cycles--spring, summer, winter, fall, spring, 4/16/08, 4/16/09, 4/16/10. That's the beauty of it. Blogs are essentially temporal: the two things that make a blog a blog are the computer and time as the organizing structure of the post. The topical blogger and the narrative blogger can, I think, take better advantage of this nexus of the progressive and the cyclical. But the rambling blogger too often falls prey to the perils of repetition inherent in that nexus (of course I'm talking about myself, but I don't think this only applies to me--I think of the blogs I've stopped reading, and the bloggers who've stopped blogging--at a certain point, so to speak, there is only so far you can go).

In other words, I think I'm saying (and this will sound familiar to a few of you), that, unlike the blogger who tries for a bit and then realizes he or she isn't really into it (i.e. the blog that lasts a few posts or a few months), the ending (or dwindling, or petering out) of the long-time blog is as much a structural effect of the nature of blogging as it is a personal reflection of the blogger.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sunday Times

Lately the Sunday Times has gone pretty much unread, sitting in a stack on the living room table or the floor next to the bed, only to be recycled on Saturday, to make room for the next day's arrival.

Last night, however, I actually read some of it, and it was actually good!

My recommendations:

Frank Rich--who usually bores me, despite our shared impeccable liberal credentials--is excellent on American shame and the war (but for some reason the column seems to have disappeared from the website--there's a link if you google effectively, but it's empty, and the column is absent from Rich's page, at least as I write this on Tuesday morning...very odd).

A.O. Scott is sweet, if a bit empty (examples of prose and opinions would have been good) on Roger Ebert, though the timing and content of the piece make me fear it is a preemptive eulogy.

A lovely profile of Faith Prince. One of my great spectatorial regrets is not seeing her in Guys and Dolls.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I'm not nuts about the video

but if I still went to clubs, and I was in a club, and this song came on, I would be pretty happy, and if someone gave me a ticket to see Madonna at Roseland, I would be there in a minute, and I'm trying to remember the last time I was at Roseland, and I'm thinking it might have been to see the English Beat DECADES ago, and I'm thinking David Byrne was standing right next to us, but maybe not.

Edited to add: S says it was a very wasted Jerry Harrison.

Wondering Why I'm No Longer Blogging About Elections?

Because it's all become too depressing, both here and in Zimbabwe.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Today's Modern Love

I'd like to be able to say that I'm not the kind of person who would mock someone for naming her kids Locklin and Phelan, especially because such mockery would inevitably imply mockery of the kids themselves, and mocking kids is not OK, unless they are your own kids, but, come on, she named her kids Locklin and Phelan, and she expects us to pay attention to what she has to say? (Of course maybe they are psueudonyms, which might be good, because then we wouldn't have to mock the kids, just her literary capacity, because, come on, who would pretend her kids' names are Locklin and Phelan?)

Maybe I'm feeling a little jaded on the self-consciously sharp and edgy thing because I just saw Juno, or maybe I'm feeling a little jaded because the look-we-have-kids-and-it's-hard-
to-have-sex-and-birthday-parties-are-painful thing is so TOTALLY DONE TO DEATH in the self-consciously sharp and edgy world of contemporary thirty-and-fortysomethings-discover-parenthood literature, or maybe it's just that she named her kids Locklin and Phelan, for god's sake.

But really what I wanted to write about was the chair. Don't know if the link has the picture of the chair, but we used to have that chair! We being the denizens of the group house I lived in right after college, the one with me and B and three guys, five cars, six guitars, a motorcycle, and the wildest parties around, including the one where the porch sank six inches into the ground, and the one where we drank the bottle of Yukon Jack and climbed the crane that had been parked next door for a week. You know, that house.

Anyway, our chair--really, it was a Piece of Furniture--was covered with brown fur and sinuously looped down and then up again, in a kind of chaise-like configuration, except softer and bigger and generally more 70s-like. Only we didn't call it a sex chair, we called it The Womb. And I don't think anyone had sex in it, at least I didn't, and it was in the living room, which really would not have been a good place to have sex in that house, as there was always somebody around, drinking a beer, or playing a guitar, or making some coffee and exploding the espresso machine all over the kitchen ceiling. But we would lie in it, one or two or even three of us, and talk or read or listen to the band practice or take a nap. It was a great chair, and it was worth reading that essay to remember it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ayelet, Jenny, and The Explosionist

Although we have one degree of separation several times over, I do not know Ayelet Waldman. And yet, the genesis of her novels is completely clear to me. This isn't just because Ayelet spent a few months baring her soul on Bad Mother; it's because in a primal way that surely hinges upon identification in all its manifestations, I get her source material, her motivations, her plots (if you've only recently tuned in, more on my Ayelet fixation here).

I do know Jenny Davidson. We met several years ago at a wedding (in the Rainbow Room, with calla lilies and a loud wedding band), and then we met again, and then we discovered each other's blogs, and the rest is history, books, running, and lots of late-night motivational and analytical email conversations.

OK, I'll get to the chase, for those of you who can't wait: there is no need to equivocate or dissimulate: I loved The Explosionist, Jenny's soon-to-be-published second novel. It's funny, interesting, gripping, and plotted out the wazoo. It's got a completely loveable schoolgirl heroine and it works genre like you wouldn't believe: boarding school, detective, ghost, alternative history. My only complaint is that the cover, while delightful in the abstract, is completely wrong: Sophie Hunter looks nothing like Nancy Drew. And I do wonder how its target audience will respond to the complexity of its historical premise, but S and Libby were arguing last night (yes, the delightful Libby, in my very own home--perhaps this post should be titled "How Many Real Life Bloggers Can Fit in a Post?") that its target audience is likely to think either that it's fantasy or--yikes--that it's truth, disregarding alternative history altogether, unless they are highly sophisticated and educated, in which case they will delight in it.

Don't worry, I have not forgotten the Ayelet hook. As I was saying, I know (or feel that I know, in the nexus of the cultural and the literary) where Ayelet's books come from. And in many places I know where Jenny's book comes from. There are passages, for instance, that are pure Jenny Davidson herself. Like these:

There was something undignified about packing rather than simply storming out, but she retained just enough self-command to know that it would be a disaster to leave without her homework.

The trouble with waiting for someone was that it was like not being able to go to sleep. It gave one altogether too much time to think about things.

Referring back to Jenny's professional life (scroll down), there is eighteenth-century literature and culture galore, down to the powerful woman doctor named after the woman novelist. Her penchant for genre fiction is self-evident, and even in passages like the extended description of how dynamite is made (luckily followed up by Sophie--standing in for the reader--wondering why on earth she is being told this) I can see Jenny's love of research and the obscure fact.

And yet, the exuberant intricacy of the novel's plot boggles me (I must confess, I occasionally lost track of what was really happening--it didn't matter, because the book was so enjoyable, but I'm still not sure who was funding the terrorists and why). I try to imagine Jenny, the Jenny I know, coming up with this complex machination, and even though I see so much of the source material, I just have no idea how and why she synthesized it, and I am deeply amazed and impressed.

(One more point that didn't find its way into the complete extended thought above: The novel is also intensely political, in an allegorical manner I didn't expect at all, because I don't think Jenny ever mentioned it, and which definitely surprised me, because I do not think I have ever heard Jenny talk about politics.)


My name is pretty unique--if you google me, you find me. For a long time there wasn't another, but now there is. She's 24, blond, and British, a little artsy and definitely a party girl. I don't feel much of a connection with her, though I'm unduly pleased, in a slight and pretentious way, by the artsiness. I wonder if my much larger internet presence bothers her.

It's (obviously) the last name that makes my name unusual. When I was growing up, we were the only ones in the phone book, and we really pretty much assumed that everyone who had the name was related to us. Then another one, Lucy, appeared, and we figured there must be a few more (is it normal behavior to look for your name in the phone book? it seemed so to me, but perhaps it is of a piece with encyclopedia reading and self-googling: a compulsive need to affirm one's reality).

I discovered the chess champion in Amsterdam where we introduced ourselves to a guy who turned out to be on his way home from a chess tournament and asked if we were related to the champion. I think there's a musician, and there's definitely an Israeli MP. Now I see on LinkedIn that there are lots of us, and I do wonder who they are.

Is this what it's like to be a Smith, or a Rachel Cohen? I think not, because if you are a Smith or a Rachel Cohen, you discover your ubiquity early. This feels more destabilizing: we have been allowed, for longer, to believe in the myth of our uniqueness, and now technology has taken that myth away.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Do We Even Need to Read the Article?

Possible Nazi Theme of Grand Prix Boss's Orgy Draws Calls to Quit

Edited to add: Oh wait, you must read the article! He's Oswald Mosley's younger son! And check it out: Oswald Mosley clearly has revisionist fans!

Edited again to add: Actually, I do think this is his private life, but, man, what a great story, in a sick and twisted media junkie kind of way! (Remind me not to post before I finish reading the article...)

Me and My Phone

In Berkeley, my bus was the Crazy Bus (all you current and former East Bay folk, is not the 51 the bus most likely to contain a crazy person of all the buses you know?). Now three or four times a week, I take the Drama Bus. The Drama Bus runs from downtown along the edge of gentrification to not gentrified, a route that could alternatively be classified in terms of race or use, in predictable ways. It passes a major hospital, several schools, and some wasteland.

The Drama Bus is probably one of the most diverse entities in East Coast Big City. You've got your white and Black yuppies, your mostly black and Latino students , your Chinese grandparents, your bums of all races, your young moms and their kids, your business people: pretty much everyone. Then you have always, and I mean always, your person on her cell phone--it's pretty much always a woman--loudly sharing her drama with the world. There's some serious drama on the Drama Bus: abusive boyfriends, illness, homelessness, truancy, addiction. All broadcast loud and clear to the rest of the bus. I suppose when things are that bad, you don't care who hears it.

My drama is not that bad, and regularly riding the Drama Bus is a great way to appreciate your life. But I have to say, I have become that obnoxious person who is always on her phone, sharing the details of her personal and work life with the world. I'm that person who looks at her phone when it rings while she's talking to you. The person who texts in meetings and at the circus. It's hideous, I hate that person, but right now there doesn't seem to be any way out of it: it's me and my phone, taking on the world.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Three Ring Circus

We went to the country for a party. We arrived in the country with two children. Within five minutes, there were five children. Within half an hour, I was the only adult and there were seven children. That's what happens to me in the country.

Luckily, the babysitter arrived soon thereafter (hiking up the mountain on her snowshoes--we were at the top of the mountain, and there is still snow in the country). I bestowed all the children upon her and went off to join the adults at the party. It was a delightful party, delightful babysitter, delightful mountain, delightful snow.

In the morning the children were like a herd of elephants way too early, and then party guests started arriving for the morning after. There were pancakes and bacon, but the bacon took a long time as the children clamored for it, refusing to do anything else because they were waiting for bacon. We decided that should be a movie: Waiting for Bacon. Finally the children had bacon and went back out into the snow to perform their tricks. C and I walked part way down the mountain and back up. We are too old and whiny for tricks. Though I did do a bit of yoga in the kitchen while everyone waited for bacon.

When we got home, we went to the circus. It was a one-ring circus. The year before we left No Longer Red State we went to the three-ring circus and loved it. But when you go to a one-ring circus, you wonder why anyone would want a three-ring circus. I have been to four one-ring circuses that I can remember: the one with the sinuous dancers and high end music, the one at the county fairgrounds with the mangy animals, the one where all the performers are kids, and this one, which is probably the best old school circus around. At a one ring circus, you can concentrate, and you feel like part of it, not just a spectator.

There were dogs and ponies, and M said, "Look at the ponies' tails--oh! that's why they're called ponytails!" The clowns were so basic, so stupid, and so funny. There was a trapeze, and a guy on a slack-rope tightrope with a unicycle, and strong people gilded in gold, and craziness of bouncing off seesaws in stilts which had the entire tent (there was a tent) screeching in terror and excitement. It was quite a circus. I love the circus. Especially when no elephants are being mistreated.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Parsing Hair Color for Girls

My position on the matter is made obvious by the fact that E had slowly-fading pink hair for about five months last year (we were amazed that it lasted so long), and M currently sports a subtle shade of purple. Our biggest problem is how to get color to show on M's dark brown locks. This is a problem because I refuse to let her bleach it (I do, occasionally, draw lines), but I'm sure that by high school, if not eighth grade, she'll be doing it herself.

This NY Times article on the subject typically confuses the issues: there is coloring hair, there is paying lots of money to color hair at a salon, there is the sociocultural landscape of hair color (which they barely touch upon).

We color hair pink and purple (next up: blue) at home on the cheap because my kids want to be punk/hip/pretty/different, which is a spot on the cultural landscape that they can inhabit but I certainly couldn't. But am I really any different from the moms who take their daughters to Frederic Fekkai for $400 caramel highlights because the girls want it and it will make them feel good about themselves? I like to think I am--in my DIY/boho self-righteousness--but maybe not.

The Sox are back

and it's time to read Soxaholix with a relaxed smile on your face (only don't get too relaxed, all this "best team in baseball/will win the division" stuff does not sit well with this old school fan--see third strip).

More News

Not quite Man Bites Dog, but close.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Best News Story of the Day

Don't miss the part about the cocktail dress.

Books I Have Not Yet Read

The real reason Matt and Ben are so cool is their moms. Seriously. Check out Matt's mom's new book. I know I usually take the pro-pop-culture/it's-really-not-so-bad-out-there position, but she's not just bashing, she's analyzing and then making practical suggestions for how to deal (how do I know all this if I haven't read the book? I read the article) (don't you want to look as good as her when you're a grandmother? of course, it probably helps to be Matt's mom) (yeah, I don't know what that meant either).

And then there's the 70s-white-girl-singer book, about which I know nothing, except that it Must. Be. Read.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Billie Jean, Evita, and Milkshakes

From Sandra who no longer blogs and thus cannot be linked to: this, which confused me for a moment and then made me laugh, hard, out loud.

For the Record

I am having an excellent hair day.


Keep up with developments at the Guardian (counter to blog conventions, most recent updates are at the bottom).

Whenceforth the Zimbabwe obsession, when there is just as much happening in Tibet and Iraq, when the Koreas are threatening to obliterate each other and who knows what's up in Iran, not to mention the ongoing horror of Israel and Palestine?

No-brainer: I've been to Zimbabwe, so I can see it in my head, I know from experience what it was like (I'm sure I've written about this before--that people are starving in Zimbabwe is appalling, given richness of land and resources) (hmm, looks like maybe I haven't written about it in depth, but no time right now, so just take my word for it: Zimbabwe in 1989 was a vista of possibility, albeit a complicated vista, and Mugabe has run the entire country into the ground on selfishness, corruption, and misguided pseudo-populist-anti-colonialism).

Is there a takeaway about American interest in foreign countries? Travel is good? It's easier when there's a clear bad guy? Crisis draws more attention than ongoing conflict? Yes, yes, yes, I suppose, but mainly I just want to see that man gone, and hope that what comes next is better.