Saturday, June 13, 2009

Four Years

I'm wondering who's been reading since the beginning of this blog. Libby and Dawn, I'm sure (Dawn, you haven't blogged since Tuesday--I'm the one who's supposed to be giving up on this, not you!). Maybe Jackie? Andi? Anyone else?

Who has been reading since we moved? Does anyone remember the four years?

Oh my goodness, it looks as if I did not blog the four years!! Well, does anyone who knows me in real life remember the four years?

A few months before we moved, when we had no idea where we'd be living or working, I applied the girls to the private school I attended, so that at least one thing could be certain. At their applicant visiting day, which was my first inkling of what it would be like to move back home, I met a woman who turned out to be the wife of the Deadhead who assistant-managed the fruit and vegetable store where I had my first job. They had moved back from California five years earlier, and she told me that when they moved, her step-mother-in-law told them it took four years to feel like you really had a life, and that was indeed how long it had taken.

Ever since, we have held to the mantra of four years.

Today, it has been four years since we moved.

This morning I lay in bed, basking in the recently-rare sight of blue sky and sun through my no-longer-quite-so-new skylights. I went for a run and moved the hostas I'd been thinking about moving for a year and a half. S went to work, and the rest of my day was pretty much about the driving--one bat mitzvah, two birthday parties (three, if you count the slumber party I picked E up at on my way back from driving M to temple), one bat mitzvah party--and then the chatting with my moms along the driving way (plus a general socializing at Lucy's daughter's birthday party). We hit the seventh grade scene, the second grade scene, the temple scene, and the family friends scene.

I'd say we have a life.

Really, we were well on our way to a life by a year. (One year was our other mantra, because I promised M that if she did not have a friend by one year, we would move back to No Longer Red State. Even M laughed about that one on the first anniversary of our move.)

But it still seems like an appropriate moment to assess the results of our move, and I'd say the step-mother-in-law was right, and I'd say that after four years, I'm feeling pretty good about our life.

House: Renovated and almost perfect (still miss outdoor space, but have plans).

Community: Very much so: temple, family friends, school moms, kids' friends everywhere we turn, boards, volunteer work, and so forth.

Kids: Absolutely thriving. I'm sure they would be fabulous kids if we lived in No Longer Red State, but they have flourished here in so many ways--from children's theater to urban independence--that simply weren't available for us there.

S's work: He's a rock star, in kitchen and community.

My work: I thought, for a long time, that this was the rub, because my work situation has been a rocky path. There were some disasters and some triumphs, and though what I was aiming for after four years was a great job I loved, I've ended up with this freelance/consulting path, which has me doing a lot of different things with a lot of different people (and making as much money as I would in a real job, if not more). It's sometimes too easy for me to see this as failure, i.e. to think of it as not having achieved what I was aiming for. But I am doing great work with great people; I am well-known, well-connected, and sought after (hmm, why did I put a hyphen in the first two and not the third? can that be right?); I have the flexibility I want; I am very much working in the fields I want to be in; and, the fact of the matter is, I am here as a result of choices I have made, at every step of the way. Although I am not infrequently dissatisfied, I have been in some way dissatisfied at every stage of my working life. In other words, in four years, I have achieved a work life, but I remain myself, and perhaps that's a project for the next four years.

Edited to add: I believe there is no hyphen because, unlike "well," "sought" is not an adverb modifying "after."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I Had a Very Nice Day Today

Life has been quite crazed around here. There is the usually childrenly crazedness of the end of the school year, augmented by the overlapping of the end of E's soccer season and the start of her summer play rehearsals, not to mention the bat mitzvahs and birthday parties. Then S and I have been beset by events and meetings, which everyone seems to think are good to schedule in June. Finally, I have (very happily) finished up with one of my long-term clients and started with another, but the two overlapped, and at the same time I have had several quick jobs to complete, which has left me working pretty much all the time when I am not at meetings or driving to bat mitzvahs.

One of the (many) nice things about this work transition is that I am shifting from two days a week on site, to work at home (with potentially some very glamorous travel). So I had envisioned peace and tranquility, only it had not happened yet because of various meetings and events. But today I hit the platonic ideal of consultant working motherhood.

After I took E to school, I worked at home pretty much straight through the school day, completing three projects. Did not clean, did not even run, which would usually be a sad thing, but today was ok, because I have been fighting something which has had me in bed at 9:30 every night and feeling a little wobbly every time I walk up the stairs.

I finished my work in time to go to the bank and library, picked E up from school and went to the Verizon store where they fixed my BlackBerry, picked M up from school. I will insert here that I did no work for the rest of the day--ok, a few emails when we got home, but nothing substantive--which was highly unusual and very delightful, and what I would like to aspire to, though I know it will be an aspiration infrequently achieved.

Then we went to City and shopped for presents. We were three bat mitzvahs behind, and this weekend has one bat mitzvah and four birthdays, so I knew if we didn't shop, it would be hopeless, so we shopped, and it was a wild success, and not only that, but everything was purchased at local stores which were a pleasure to patronize. Craft store, new bookstore, used bookstore, toy store, stationery store, Tibetan store. And delicious pizza with butternut squash sauce!

We came home. I fed M and E sushi rice and edamame, cleaned the kitchen, and picked up the living room--all the housework that needed to be done. M and I took E to rehearsal and went to our favorite cafe for a Girls Reading Party, then to the library because the book I got this afternoon made me feel compelled to get another book, both of which I expect I'll be reporting on soon enough. We also had pleasant conversation, and it was thoroughly delightful.

So that was my day, and now I am happy, and getting into bed to read my book, and hopefully will do it all again tomorrow, except for the shopping--mainly what I hope to do is work productively during school and then be a relaxed mom. Except, oh dear, I have to go to E's play at 9, and I have a conference call at 3:30 and...well, at least it was nice to have one day of life under control.

Old School Becca Blogging

Julia Roberts is adorable. Kate Gosselin is horrifying. And Letterman discussing Palin is quite funny.

Monday, June 08, 2009


I think all there is to say about today's Times is this.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Speaking of Shakespeare

My first Shakespeare, or at least the first Shakespeare I remember, was a televised production of Much Ado About Nothing set just after World War I which I absolutely adored (could it be this? the hair looks right), though I did wonder for an embarassingly long time how a turn-of-the-17th-century writer could have set a play in the early 20th century (I really did). I was perhaps 9 or 12 or some such age.

M's first Shakespeare was the Northern Ballet Theatre's Midsummer Night's Dream at Sadler Wells, which set an impossibly high standard for both Shakespeare and ballet--it was her first ballet as well, and it was sublime. She was 7, and she prepared by reading the play, and I believe it was the actual play, not a children's version, though I may be wrong about that. I do recall that she would read it aloud on the Tube, which was quite darling, though it could have been pretentious in the wrong hands.

E's first Shakespeare was Much Ado About Nothing last night. Or rather, Much Ado About Nothing last night was her first live Shakespeare. She has been quite entranced with this children's Shakespeare for a long time now, and on Friday afternoon, she and G were taking turns reading Romeo and Juliet aloud to each other, inspired, I believe, by Taylor Swift (the song that will forever remind me of bar mitzvahs, Hebrew school carpool, H, and second grade girls in the back seat).

Unfortunately, the book does not include Much Ado About Nothing, so we hied to the library, where we discovered there is not much in the way of accessible Much Ado About Nothing, which strikes me as odd, because, confusing as Much Ado About Nothing may be, it is no more confusing than, say, The Tempest, which is the most outrageously confusing Shakespeare there is (and, dare I say, overrated?). Anyway, we ended up with this, which had a serviceable plot summary that we read together, and then we read the plot summary in the program together too, and by the time the play began, she was enormously excited, spurred on, no doubt, by my own Much Ado About Nothing excitement.

The production was incredibly fabulous--creative, inspired, brilliantly-acted, funny, and so linguistically sensitive as to make you feel the genius of Shakespeare. I know, that sounds like too much of a cliche to even write, except that it is a different thing to read Shakespeare and to watch Shakespeare. To make an audience at once feel that they are watching real people with real emotions--which is surely the goal of naturalistic theater, broadly speaking, of which Shakespeare is surely a progenitor--while at the same time highlighting the thematic richness of the language, well, let's just say it is not always done well, but last night it was.

Except for poor E, who was lost pretty much as soon as they opened their mouths, because, rich as Shakespeare's language may be, it is also decisively turn-of-the-17th century, which, for a second grader--and even, sometimes, for a seventh grader--is rough. She worked hard to follow what was going on, as I whispered a rapid-fire translation/explanation in her ear, and she loved the physical comedy, but it was a lot of work, and eventually she put her head in my lap and went to sleep (it was also kind of late).

So this got me thinking about the essence of Shakespeare. Despite the importance of Shakespeare's language, he is probably the most bowdlerized, abridged, revised, summarized author we've got, and in all those forms he has always been popular. As a reader, I've gotten most of my Shakespeare from the page, and it's been largely about language, probably more than plot. E, too, has gotten her Shakespeare from the page, but it's been about story, with hardly anything to do with language. Perhaps that's the point: what makes Shakespeare such a permanently powerful presence is that both language and story hold their own, and together, in a production like the one we saw last night, there is pretty much nothing better.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Television 2 (Sorry, No Tom Verlaine Here Either)

On the other hand...

M has been sick since Sunday (she seems finally to be getting better, thanks), which means pretty much constant television, much of it in my presence, since sick in our house seems to entail Advil, blankets, pillows, a glass of water, and Mommy, not to mention any and all food and drink you desire, especially when you are starting to get better, and lack of nutrients seems to have become an impediment rather than a side effect. But I digress.

There's been a lot of Zack and Cody and Hannah Montana and Food Network, which we're used to. Then there's been The Ellen Show, which is just a total delight, only to be enjoyed on sick days, given timing issues (if loving Ellen makes me banal and mainstream, I'll take it). Then there's reality TV.

Oh. My. God.

What Not to Wear is fine--stupid and hegemonic, but at least the protagonist gets some clothes out of the shame. Ditto with Ace of Cakes, and the like, which at least involve people doing things which are of interest to some other people. But have you watched reality TV on MTV lately? Here I betray my sheltered television ignorance, and I am shocked, shocked, I tell you, by the likes of Parental Control, where the parents who hate the kid's boyfriend or girlfriend send the kid out on dates with people of their choice, while they sit home with the hated boy/girlfriend and watch the date by video, fighting all the time in the trashiest of manners, and then the kid chooses between the boy/girlfriend and the parentally-selected dates.

Hello? These are real people?! I mean, obviously it's scripted and people behave according to the norms they've learned from other reality shows, but, my God, this is Rome fiddling while Nero burns, the extreme sign of decadence and degradation, the antithesis of Gilmore Girls. I tell you, we are doomed, and television is at once the engine and the representation of our doom!

And, no, I have nothing to say about Jon and Kate!

Television (Not a Post About Tom Verlaine)

The two things people are most surprised to learn about me are that I don't eat meat and I don't watch TV. They are surprised because we are such a food family and I am such a pop culture maven, but they are also surprised because I keep these facts pretty quiet. See, people who don't eat meat or watch TV can tend toward the sanctimonious, and you should know by now how I feel about the sanctimonious. Plus I am truly not sanctimonious about either of these things.

I don't eat meat because I haven't eaten it in 30 years and I'm just not interested, but I'm fine with you eating meat (except for veal--those poor baby calves...). I haven't watched TV--except for the Red Sox, the occasional awards show, and a lot of background Hannah Montana and Zack and Cody--for about a dozen years, first because I didn't like the way baby M's eyes strayed to the TV, and then because I haven't had time. Or rather, I have chosen not to make time, given the competing pull of work, books, magazines, and WordTwist. And then, of course, there is my completion compulsion: I can't bear the thought of missing an episode, so I prefer not to watch at all. I know I've missed a lot of good TV--Sopranos, Weeds, Gray's Anatomy, yeah, yeah, yeah--but that's been fine with me. And, as with the meat, I'm totally fine with you watching TV.

Then we started watching Project Runway. M and E had actually been renting episodes for a while, without me really noticing, and then one day I got drawn in, and, you know, it was totally fun. But what was really fun was watching with M and E. The watching was fun, and then the discussing, and the speculating, and the joking...really it was just an all-round family entertainment experience. So we watched an episode a night of two full seasons of Project Runway (the one with Laura and the one with Christian), and then a friend came to visit and said we should watch Gilmore Girls.

Since now I was all open to the familial TV experience, we rented the first disc of the first season of Gilmore Girls, and of course we loved Gilmore Girls! Mom and daughter, grandparents, romance, quirky neighbors, Austen and Kafka references...what's not to love and discuss and speculate and joke about? (I took the What Gilmore Girls Character Are You? quiz, protesting the whole way that none of the answers applied to me, and I came out as Luke. Luke! I am not Luke! But M was Rory, and she is so totally Rory.) So now we watch a Gilmore Girls episode every night, and we're kind of bummed we can't just start in with the new season next week, but, you know, there's still that completion compulsion and all.

So, yeah, TV! Or at least, TV on DVD!

(And speaking of pop culture, is Kate Hudson truly so desperate for publicity that she needs to fake a relationship with A-Rod? Kate, you're a hippie chick. Chris Robinson, Owen Wilson...and A-Rod? Something is not right.)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

To Gardasil or Not To Gardasil

I have been in a bit of a tizzy about Gardasil, the HPV vaccine. As anyone who knows me knows, I am generally pro-modern medicine from a personal standpoint (hooray for successful emergency appendectomies!), and pro-vaccines from an ideological standpoint (the only reason you can get away with not vaccinating your precious little Artemis is because all the rest of us are vaccinating, so Artemis is unlikely to be exposed to any of the diseases we are vaccinating against) (i.e. herd effect).

So I was all set and good to go with the HPV vaccine, and then one of M's good friends had the vaccine in November and has been terribly ill ever since, with no other diagnosis or cause. Then the physician parents of another of her friends said they were not vaccinating their daughters, because they've heard of a few such cases. And, really, I do not usually go for this kind of anecdotal anxiety, but I just felt, in my gut, that I did not want to vaccinate her. But that feeling was very odd in itself, because it was so counter to my usual position.

Luckily, today I was saved by our fabulous pediatrician. She said that there is no reason to consider the vaccine until a girl is sexually active, which means we can--and should--wait (the reason the public health recommendation is to vaccinate at 10-11 is because many girls do become sexually active at that age--which I know is true--but that recommendation is moot when it comes to individual girls) (that was really hard to phrase, but I hope it's clear what I mean). Since the vaccine is only five years old, a few more years will generate significantly more data. So we are definitely waiting on this one, and I am shelving my tizzy, for now.

Monday, June 01, 2009

June 1, 2009: Cars

Here's a political litmus test: What are you most upset about today, Dr. Tiller or GM? Here's an...intellectual? ideological? oh, let's just call it another litmus test: What are you blogging about today?

My automotive history:

Toyota Starlet
Honda Civic
Ford Escort wagon
(Honda M5)
(Mazda 3)
Subaru Outback wagon

S's cars are in parentheses, everything was bought used except the Escort, and this list pretty much tells you everything you need to know about us, demographically speaking.

I never in my life considered buying a GM car. (I had to look up GM even to know what they are. And I had to look up Jeep too, which turns out to be Chrysler.)

I did love my Ford, once I got over my status issues and decided it was a cool indie car. I would have bought another, when repairing the first was no longer justifiable, but by then they had stopped making Escorts, and though I thought the Focus was pretty cute, my mechanic was strongly against it.

I totally get the horror of GM's bankruptcy for workers. Totally. But it's hard for me to mourn the brand. I'm of the "American automakers should have heard the music and read the writing on the wall a long time ago" school. Capitalist though I'm not, I think a company has to make viable product to survive. As far as I can tell, they didn't, and now their workers are paying the price.

Really, though, it all seems very far away, which tells you even more about me, demographically speaking.

I'm upset about Dr. Tiller too, though I must admit that too seems very far away. But mostly, I have lost any interest or faith in the viability of blogging as political action, and I've lost most of my interest in the sound of my own voice, especially when it simply parrots my demographic.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hug? Hug!

I do not intend this blog to become all NY Times all the time, but the hugging teens article is irresistible! And I'm not going to go where you probably think I'm going. No sirree, Bob, this one is right on the mark! Seriously.

We first noticed the hugging teens at M's summer camp, where a two-minute walk across the lawn invariably takes 15 minutes, as M throws her arms around every young female she encounters. However, we chalked this up to the camp, which is a super-huggy kind of place.

Then she started middle school. Oh my god, all those girls do is hug! They hug when they say hello, when they say goodbye, when they pass each other in the halls--I am not kidding! Just the other day, BEFORE the article came out, M was telling us how she hugs her friend whenever they pass each other on their way to class! It's ridiculous. But it makes them happy, so fine. Hugs are nice.

Not so fast, says commenter #18 at the bottom of this page (framed as commentary on the hugs, but hardly so) (go read it, seriously, even if you never click through, especially you, Phantom, and you, my sister). Yes, it's the attachment moms, once again blaming us daycare mothers for EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER GONE WRONG WITH ANY CHILD ANYWHERE. (Yup, here comes the snark.) You see, these teens must hug each other because, stuck in daycare as tiny babies, they were denied the millenia-proven years of maternal physical contact and constant nursing which would have enabled them to grow up healthy and happy (I'm not joking, I tell you, go read it, those are words she uses [rearranged to avoid plagiarism and the necessity of painful quotations]).

Assumption alert! Assumption alert! In other words, the fact that teens are hugging each other is bad? A sign of developmental deficiency? A blight and a pox upon our civilization? Uh, maybe not? Maybe they just like to hug each other? Sorry Attachment Parent Mom, you're going to have to look elsewhere to support your fine-tuned anthropohistorical theories.

But of course this is the best theoretical statement on hugs, not to mention the source of this post's title. (And, no, the maternal thematics thereof do not in any way support Attachment Parent Mom's theories of teenage behavior.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

NY Times Post-Mortem

How much pause do you think the Bernie Madoff scandal gave the production team for the Lower East Side American Girl doll? Because you know the reason we're getting a second Jewish American Girl, rather than a first Muslim American Girl, is the deep pockets of those Jewish American grandmas. (For a romantic feminist, I'm certainly heavy on the materialist analysis these days.)

The "look, we're all nice now" article? The lamest in (non-)trend journalism. Remember how irony was over after 9/11? Uh, not. And, uh, advertising agency folk are not exactly unbiased experts--their job is to create such "trends," no? So don't you think they might have a vested interested, whatever...

Another "sell-a-relative-up-the-river" Modern Love, and they still make me queasy, even when said relative is heading up the river anyway, of his own volition.

On the other hand, I loved the People covers article, being the hard-core materialist that I seem to be these days. Facts! Stats! Interviews with the people who matter! Show us how base we really are! (Kirstie Alley is fat again?! No!!)

Turning to the Magazine, I have never watched Conan, have no interest in watching Conan, and this article did nothing to stimulate my interest, but man, he sure has a lot of guitars.

Going by the pictures, I think I'd rather go to the black prom than the white prom (snark aside, I thought this was a complicated, interesting, and sad piece).

Re: The Romanticization of Manual Labor, otherwise known as "The Case for Working With Your Hands": Yes, school is unnatural and does not serve many of our students, especially our boys. Yes, the "everyone needs to go to college" movement is fundamentally wrongheaded. Yes, there is an incredible satisfaction inherent in working with your hands. And yet...the idea that manual labor is fundamentally ethical is belied by the incredible amount of crap manual labor that is perpetrated everywhere all the time (I'm thinking Big Dig, for those of you who know what I'm talking about). And if manual labor is all that, why aren't you satisfied with it? Why the need to write A BOOK about it? Started out nodding my head on this one, and ended up pissed off, as usual.

Hmm, when I started thinking about this post, I thought I was reserving my main vitriol for the Book Review, only now I am out of steam. So I will simply say that I do not know why the NY Times Book Review garners such esteem, in certain circles, because their modus reviewandi is simply dumb. This book sounds like it could totally be my kind of book, except that I have no idea if it is any good, because the review is simply background and plot summary. Which is ridiculous and the reason I rarely actually read the Book Review.

Edited to add: I take it back: this is an exemplary review. Then again, this is quintessential Brooksian blowhardiness, though it does have an opinion. Maybe the issue is that the Book Review is stylistically incoherent (which could be a virtue), but tends toward plot summary (which is not).

Friday, May 15, 2009

What Recession?

One of E's great dreams is to have a lemonade stand. She and M did it once--with a babysitter, of course--right after Katrina, and, as I recall, they raised $9 for Katrina victims. She's been asking to do it ever since (yes, that long), and it's not that I've been resisting (really), but there's always been some obstacle (like, we've had no lemons, or some such).

Today E's friend C came over after school, and they were poking around, eating snack and not doing much, in that slightly bored, slightly anxious way of the first play date with someone you play with constantly at school, but have never had over to your house, and all of a sudden E asked if they could have a cookie stand. She had made chocolate chip cookies last night with S, which meant there were no lemons to worry about, so I said sure.

They brought down the table, made the sign, set up the cookies on a plate, decided to include the brownies M had made last week (still good! our brownie recipe lasts a long time), and opened for business. They spent a lot of time practicing hawking their wares to passersby, and they lost a potential first customer to shyness, but then they got going, and if they'd had a cash register, it would have gone kaching! kaching! kaching!

I'm guessing it was partly because they were so cute, and partly because it was a beautiful day, and partly because a cookie stand is so unusual, but just about everyone who passed by bought a cookie, one woman bought four, and one man driving down the street even pulled his car up to see what they were selling and bought a brownie.

The most amazing thing was that just about everyone overpaid. They'd wanted to sell the cookies for fifty cents, but that seemed a bit much to me, so I suggested a quarter. Then almost everyone insisted on paying a dollar, even when they had change. They made six dollars and twenty-five cents: each girl took three dollars, and they gave the quarter to C's little brother.

No moral here, just a cute story of dreams coming true.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Work Insecurity Post (But Not the One You Think)

I try to avoid Penelope Trunk, because she is mad annoying, but she seems to always show up. Most recently, she showed up here, not that I read Guy Kawasaki's blog--I don't even know who Guy Kawasaki is, except that he always seems to show up too, especially around Penelope Trunk--but something linked, and I clicked, and there she was, doing her usual "let me tell you how it is based on nothing but how I think it should be because I'm Penelope Trunk" schtick.

Let's not even talk about the "The glass ceiling is over" thing (especially if you're a professional WOMAN who feels compelled to tweet her SEX LIFE). But I was struck, as I always am, by this: "Only ten percent of jobs come from sending a blind resume. Most people get jobs by leveraging their network."

Here's where we get to the difference between me and Penelope Trunk. OK, just one difference, another being that I don't tweet my sex life, and a third being that, despite what I am about to say about my anxiety versus her chutzpah, I am not the one in therapy.

I've heard this a lot: all the career books and blogs and experts say that the way you get jobs is by networking, not by responding to ads. It's certainly been true for me. Have I ever gotten a job through an ad? Mmm, I did get one consulting gig completely blind. My job in No Longer Red State was advertised, hence my application, but I knew two people there, which surely helped get me the job.

Other than that: Camp counselor? Boyfriend's sister. College internship? (Same) boyfriend's friend. First job out of college? Former boss at college internship. Second job out of college? Semi-boyfriend's old friend whom I met at a dinner party. Oh, I did get a part-time job in grad school from an ad. Fast forward to East Coast Big City. First job? College professor. Second job? Friend of my mom's. Current employment? Main consulting gig #1 came from someone I met at second job. Main consulting gig #2 sort of came through an ad, but I think I had a name to drop. Just started a big chunk of work for D, and probably heading into another big chunk via a friend who has been insisting for months that I do some work for her company.

Now, if I were Penelope Trunk, I would say "Go me! Look how I worked those networks to make myself successful! Rah, rah, I am a poster child for the actual workings of the workplace economy."

But I am me, so I think "The only people who want to hire me are my friends, and that's just because they like me and take pity on me, so clearly I am a total fraud."

Hmm, maybe I would be better off as Penelope Trunk...

Edited to add: S, on the other hand, has gotten dozens of jobs from blind resumes in response to ads, though his current job, which is his Best Job Ever, was total connections, the main connection, of course, being me.

Edited again to add: Dawn just made me realize that the other piece of this is that I do occasionally apply to jobs that are advertised, including jobs that seem perfect for me, and just about nothing ever happens, which is probably one reason that I read my networking history as evidence of pathetic failure, rather than professional efficacy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Elizabeth Edwards

I started an Elizabeth Edwards post several days ago, complete with copious links, and then I deleted it, because it all seemed so boring and obvious. But now I am wondering, once again, whether I'm on a different planet from the rest of the world. You can find the links yourself, and if you're one of my blog readers, you've probably read them all already, but basically the going wisdom (a la Maureen Dowd) is that she wrote the book and excerpted it in Time (or was it Newsweek--I am determined not to link) and went on Oprah to punish her husband--kids and privacy be damned. And then various people weigh in on the ethics, etc. of this decision, and on whether it fits with the Elizabeth Edwards we already know.


Am I the only person who thinks that it's perfectly obvious that she did this for the money? She's dying, she's got little kids, she doesn't trust her husband as far as she can throw him, plus he's being investigated and doesn't have much of a career path anyway, so his financial viability is surely in doubt. Doesn't it make sense that at this point, with not much to lose, the one thing she knows she can do is put away a couple of million dollars (book advance + excerpt and appearance fees + potential royalties) in her own name, to make sure her kids are OK?

Or is that just too simplistic?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Nice Job, NY TImes

I truly loved this week's Modern Love. I know that mom, and I know those girls--I mean, I don't know the author and her daughters, but I know people who have been in those positions, including on top of that train, and she just grabbed my heart, though I was glad to be feeling sympathy, rather than empathy.

Spot-on review of Ayelet Waldman's new book, about which I have been staying quiet over here, but let me just say this and this, and you'll know that obsession dies hard.

I usually can't bear Walter Kirn, whom I find a thematic and stylistic blowhard, but this essay on the emotional effects of losing your job hits the mark, though the gendering, explicit and implicit, seemed unnecessary.

More mixed feelings on Daphne Merkin's depression article. A compelling read, but more in a "Daphne Merkin was in a mental hospital?!" kind of way, than a "wow, this is a whole new take on the subject" kind of way, which is to say I'm not sure she took the fundamental insights beyond The Bell Jar, Styron, Sullivan, et al, though the piece is beautifully written, powerfully evoked, etc. I do tend to read such articles as thermometers of a sort, measuring my own mental and emotional tendencies--hmm, I do have that feeling, but, no, not that one--which I'm not quite sure is good for me or a positive comment on the literary function therof, though, then again, the comparative is surely one huge function of the literary.

More and more, I'm feeling about the media that I've read all this before, which makes me sad. And I also have to say that in the last month, I feel myself moving away from the print newspaper in a significant way. I've had less time for the newspaper this year, because I leave early in the morning so often, then some breaking news a month or so ago brought me to our local paper's website, which I've started visiting more. Ironically, the person who reads the paper most assiduously around here is M. I can't imagine we would ever stop buying it, because, well, because we just wouldn't, but these days I do feel myself more actively culpable in the inevitable decline of print.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Jew Fishing

I had never heard of Jew fishing until Friday, when my sister told me it was the latest manifestation of a recent bout of anti-semitism that has struck my nephew's sixth grade class.

That night, we went to the seventh grade service at Temple. The seventh grade studies the Holocaust in Hebrew School, and at the end of the year they run the Yom HaShoah service, during which they make presentations. M and her friend H did a presentation about the culpability of the pope (Pius XII) during the Holocaust. Another friend, J, did her presentation, the final one of the evening, on anti-semitism today. In it, she told the story of a friend of hers who was tormented by anti-semitic taunts and harassment in middle school, to the point that she started to hate being Jewish. One low point of her experience was when the kids started...Jew fishing.

My friend S was sitting next to me, and I said to her, "That is so weird, I never heard of Jew fishing until this afternoon, and here it is again." She said that when her older son was in middle school, the middle school where M and her younger son are currently in seventh grade, there was all sorts of anti-semitic activity...including Jew fishing.

I'm not distraught or aghast or even shocked. I know this kind of stuff goes on, even if I don't know the specifics. I am struck by the fact that I have actually never been the target of, or even been near, such direct, stereotyped harassment. My (very little) experience has been more along the lines of being the only Jew in the room and having people not know what to do with me, or having to intervene to protest generalized anti-semitic comments, at which point people are usually embarassed and backtrack and say things like "I had no idea you were Jewish," or "but I didn't mean you."

There is definitely anti-semitism in Town, both personal and political. I believe there was anti-semitic graffiti in the bathroom at M's school this year. But I asked her what she thought of S's description of her older son's experience, and she confidently scoffed it off. That wouldn't happen now, she said, because there are so many Jewish kids.

This is, in fact, only relatively true. There were three or four Jewish kids per grade in the classes that are now in high school. M's seventh grade, in contrast, has, by her account, maybe 15 or 20. This, for the girl who was the only Jew in her school through most of elementary school, is a lot. I pointed out, though, that if she were in Jewish Suburb, or Other Jewish Suburb, it would be more like 60% (I pulled that number out of my head, but you can imagine, if I call the place Jewish Suburb, how Jewish it might be).

Nevertheless, small though they may seem, numbers bespeak power. M also pointed out that two boys in her Hebrew school carpool are among the most popular boys in her grade. While she and these boys have their issues, when push comes to shove, they are her homies. If she told them that anyone had messed with her about being Jewish, she said, they would go after the kids, and I think she's right.

Still, it makes me sad that we even need to have the conversation.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Who Does She Think She Is?

Oh, I would so like not to be cranky and cynical. I wish I could turn off my critical eye. But it's hard.

I went to see Who Does She Think She Is? at the local arts center. It's a lovely arts center. I went with my friends. I love my friends. Lots of nice women I know were there. I'm sure the women I didn't know were nice too.

Who Does She Think She Is? is a documentary about women who are artists and mothers. That's a lovely topic. And at first I was all into it. Mothers! Challenges! Supportive children! Art! And not just art, but interesting and beautiful art!

Only, after a bit, I started to wonder: who is funding this art? Do these women not need to make money? Children, yes, children get in the way of women's autonomy, but, especially in this day and age, don't women also need to support themselves and their families, or at least help support themselves and their families? I sure do. In a full-length movie, approximately 90 seconds were about money. Who was talking about money? The divorced women. I'll let you figure out the underlying assumption about women and money, but I also think to not talk about money underscores another powerful set of assumptions about art and money, that is, the idea that the life of the artist is above and beyond material things.

Except, you know, there's health insurance and shoes and mortgages and food, and those things take on even more importance once you have children. Art-children-money: you can't not triangulate them. Well, I guess you can, since the movie does, but to refuse to triangulate, to insist on a binary art-children relationship, is to profoundly obfuscate contemporary reality.

And then even the art-children binary eroded, as the film slipped into a pretty standard feminist critique of the art world, complete with Guerilla Girls, Judy Chicago, and the paucity of women at the Guggenheim and MOMA. Yeah, yeah, yeah, important, appalling, etc. But haven't we heard it before? And what does it have to do with mothers? (Then the talking heads started talking about goddesses and my good will, well, it started to seriously erode.)

But the actual mother-artists were really interesting. And their art was interesting too, and quite wonderful. And they were truly diverse: Black woman from the Caribbean, African American woman, Japanese woman, Latina woman, and Mormon white woman. Oh, I just couldn't have borne it if they had all been white middle-class artist moms, so huge kudos to the filmmaker for walking that walk. And most importantly, the movie made me think.

So overall, a positive experience, even though I missed the discussion and any post-mortem with my friends, because I had to come home to my KIDS. But I do wish I could just say, "I loved it!" Only then there would probably be no blog post...

(Caroline was more wholeheartedly enthusiastic.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Of Sentimentality and Smugitude, or Why I Haven't Written About the Bat Mitzvah

On the day after the bat mitzvah, at some point in our daylong houseful of brunchers, who became lunchers, and then late afternoon snackers, my step-nephew picked up a copy of Anna Karenina, which was being used to prop up a sign for the arts-and-crafts store next to the dining room table, and remarked upon what a great first line it has.

I thought, for most of the week, that this was why I felt unable to write about M's bat mitzvah. The weekend of M's bat mitzvah was pretty much straight-out joy, occasionally to the point of bliss, and, you know, the happy thing just isn't particularly interesting. Then there's the fact of the Anna Karenina comment itself: I love my step-nephew a lot, but, you know, to remark upon the first line of Anna Karenina? We're not talking originality; in fact, we're pretty much in the realm of sentimentality.

To write about how meaningful it is to honor an adolescent, just at the moment when they are capable of so much, yet so often so annoying (don't worry, M, you're not that annoying); to revel in the spirit of conciliation that pervaded the event (remember those kids who were M's friends and then turned mean? they're nice again); to kvell over the music, and the weeping grandparents, and the loving, supportive friends...oh my god, could we be any more sentimental?

Then again, I realized, perhaps on Thursday, I'm all about the sentimental! (Speaking of which, last night we finally watched the movie version of Ballet Shoes, with Emma Watson, and it is thoroughly delightful, in all its hardboiled sentimentality, and quite close to the book--it does conjure up a romance unnecessary to literature, but clearly essential to film, albeit in quite a reasonable way, but it lets both Pauline and Posy be as bratty as they really are, and it's a wonderful portrait of sisters.) Noel Streatfeild aside, Susan Warner? Harriet Beecher Stowe? High School Musical 3? Bring it on! (But please leave the Hannah Montana movie behind.)

Still, it is one thing to revel in the consumption of sentiment; to produce it, when attempting to document true feeling, is quite another.

Yesterday, however, I realized that there was something much worse than sentimentality at stake . Yesterday, I had several encounters, in person, print, and pixel, with what can only be characterized as smugitude, because smugness simply isn't sufficiently weighty to be the appropriate nominal form of smug. You know smug: when people are convinced that they are the best, and are unabashedly proud of it, to the point that they can magnanimously praise others, so those others can illustrate, yet again, their own bestness. Smugitude is thoroughly revolting, and smugitude, like sentimentality, is something to which I fear I may have my own revolting tendencies. But where one can embrace sentimentality, on grounds of kitsch, or even roots of true feeling (see: cliches, which become so because they work so well), there is simply no excuse for smugitude. And to write arias of joy over the bliss that was M's bat mitzvah? So potentially close to smug, that I just can't go there.

So, you'll have to take my word for it: from the flowers coming into bloom the day before; to M and her friend A, whose bat mitzvah was the afternoon of M's, leading the Friday night service together; to the rabbi's insightful Friday night sermon; to all of us beautiful in our bat mitzvah dresses; to M's impeccable service-leading, Torah-reading, haftarah-reading, AND dvar-producing; to E falling off her chair in the middle of the service and sending the whole room into gales of laughter; to delicious food; to loud music; to socializing adults, dancing tweens, and adorable five-year-old girls in party dresses; to the end of the party when M's posse and my high school friends rocked out on the dance floor; to Chinese food in sweatpants with hilarious out-of-town was a smug and sentimental event of joy and bliss, the likes of which I wish for everyone, in whatever form it comes to you.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Few Cultural Notes

Last night we were at the restaurant, and T was bartending, which means T was DJing, which means happiness all around. "Shut Up and Drive" came on, and we were all shaking our heads and bopping our shoulders, because what else can you do when you hear "Shut Up and Drive"? I mean, that is one irresistible song (and, frankly, I have no interest in resisting Rihanna).

Then suddenly Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" came to mind (can you say summer of '87?). If I were more musically knowledgeable, I would try to make an argument about the difference 20 years or so makes for pop music, Black women, and cars, but I don't think I can manage it, at least on any kind of generalizable terms. One song looks back, the other forward; one yearns on an acoustic guitar, the other bounces on a drum machine loop; one's about love, the other is about sex; both evoke the all-American car/escape thing, but Rihanna's the one who's in charge--or at least the one who's made to seem in charge, even though Chapman was the one who was in charge of her career, even though look what good that did her. So, have we made progress, or not, and on what terms? Or is it just the difference between Tracy Chapman and Rihanna, which is a difference in so many dimensions: economic, geographic, relation to music business? I'll go with my usual conclusion, and say Yes.

On the book front, I so do not get the fuss being made over Caitlin Macy's new book. The first story is compelling, the next two are unreadable, then there's one that's OK, then I think I stopped. It's fine to write about unpleasant characters, but there's got to be a place to hook in, and I sure haven't found it.

On the other hand, Zoe Heller's new novel had me hooked from the first sentence. The woman can write, whether you like it or not: she's got power of phrasing, power of observation, power of characterization. I probably shouldn't be writing about the book, as I've only read a few chapters, and I could just as easily end up hating it, but I was so struck by the difference between Heller's essential readability, even with unpleasant characters, and Macy's fundamental unreadability, at least for me.

Tune in soon, when I'll be able to tell you all about the Hannah Montana movie...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Speech

M, I could go on and on about the myriad ways in which you are wonderful, and I know you would like that. But I want, instead, to focus my remarks on one aspect of your wonderfulness, an aspect that is particularly relevant today, and that is your relation to Judaism.

Despite appearances to the contrary, M has not spent her entire life cosseted in the warm embrace of Temple and the East Town Kibbutz. In fact, from the day after she learned to walk, until the month after her ninth birthday, we lived in suburban No Longer Red State, where M was the only Jewish child in her elementary school, the nearest synagogue was half an hour away, and she was, I regret to inform you, a Hebrew school dropout.

Despite these challenging circumstances, from a very early age, M had a remarkably strong Jewish identity. She never complained about not celebrating Christmas, but instead loved having me come to her class to teach the other children about Hanukkah. Whenever people asked if she was excited for the Easter Bunny, she proudly announced that she was Jewish. By her own choice, she kept kosher for Passover and started to fast on Yom Kippur. And, by necessity, embracing her Judaism was part of her everyday life as well.

So why was this? Part of it, M, is surely your incredible self-confidence. You are who you are, you’re not afraid of anyone, and you won’t stand down--this is a remarkable trait in anyone, but especially in someone your age, and it makes me so very proud of you. But I think there’s more to the Jewish piece. I believe that your Jewish identity is integrally connected to the core of who you are.

M’s love of reading is legend, and her Grammy has been supplying her with Jewish reading since she could chew on her first Noah board book. When Mindy Saved Hanukkah, Sammy Spider’s First Everything, All of a Kind Family…even if she didn’t live in a Jewish community, books gave her a sense of Jewish history and a Jewish world, just as reading has expanded her horizons in so many directions.

Although No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb is about as far as you can get from the Lower East Side tenements where Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie grew up, we did have a small, but caring Jewish community there. M, I don’t know if you remember A and L, but they were the main big girls in your life in No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb. You adored them, and they were so kind to you--L even let you sit next to her at her bat mitzvah. I see that kindness coming around again in your own kindness to younger children--to E F-F, and C and G, and Little M and J, and Cousin L, and sometimes even your own sister.

Two other significant people in your life in No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb were our next-door neighbors, whom you adopted as your local grandparents. They lead me back to East Coast Big City, where your own grandparents lived, because another crucial element in the consolidation of your Jewish identity has been your deep connection to your family, and especially to your grandparents and your great-aunt M in Israel. You cherish your family, and they in turn cherish you.

We eventually left No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb and found ourselves back in Town, and at Temple, and here you have flourished. Your love of reading, thinking, and learning have been stimulated by your classes on Israel, ethics, and the Holocaust. Your gift for friendship is visible across this very room. You have become even closer to your family, as you get to see your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins so much more frequently.

Here, too, you have become deeply committed to tzedakah: to social justice and to helping others. Whether you are marching for peace with your grandmother, or insisting that we walk the entire 20 miles of the Walk for Hunger, or helping backstage with the play at E's school--which is what M spent this week doing, even though her bat mitzvah was fast approaching--you are always looking for opportunities to help and to make the world a better place.

When you were born, M, your great-aunt M sent us a fax, in which she wrote, “May you succeed to raise her to Torah, Chuppah, and good deeds”; “l’torah, l’chuppah, u l’maasim tovim”; a life of learning, loving, and giving. I don’t know if Sam and I tried, purposefully, to follow her wishes, but they certainly track our deepest values, and as I look at you today, I see learning, loving, and giving at the heart of who you are, and who I know you will be, and I am so very proud.

The final thing I want to say to you, M, is Thank you. Thank you for being such a wonderful person in all the myriad ways you are wonderful. Thank you for being such an inspiration to us all. And thank you for being my daughter. I love you forever and for always.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The God Thing

In the last week, two friends have told me that their daughters are not having bat mitzvahs.

One is a friend from long ago with whom I just reconnected (thanks, Internet!). When M was born, I had the kind of mother's group you read about and wish you had, except for once I actually had it. We met in prenatal yoga, so we were a copacetic bunch of athleticish, organicish, liberalish moms. Our babies were all born within a month of each other, and we were together from babies lying on the blanket to toddlers running around the playground--then I moved away, but I think they stuck together for a while longer. Anyway, I was just thinking about S, probably the one I was closest to, and wondering if she was preparing for a bat mitzvah too, so I tracked her down (LinkedIn), and we were both delighted to find each other again.

Only her daughter is not having a bat mitzvah, because S lost her faith after 9/11 and couldn't see sending her kids to Hebrew School if she didn't believe. I actually haven't responded to that email, because I didn't know what to say.

Then this morning a very good friend emailed me to say that her daughter, whose bat mitzvah was fairly imminent, had decided not to do it because, among other things, she doesn't believe in God. That one was easy to reply to: I just said "Good for her. Hope things haven't been too difficult," or words to that effect.

Then I said to S, "Are we really superficial, or just well-adjusted?" (which was not meant to imply that any of these other people are maladjusted; it's just what I said).

Because, honestly, believing in God has never once come up in the entire preparation for M's bat mitzvah (OK, that may not be true, M may have discussed it with her tutor, but certainly it has not come up between me, S, and M).

S said that he has thought about this issue a lot since his bar mitzvah, and the Talmud says nothing about believing in God, you just have to follow the rules. For Catholics, not believing is a sin, but it's not like that for Jews. I don't know if this is true, but it sounds good to me, and S tends to think about things like this more deeply than I do, since I just read novels.

We didn't make M have a bat mitzvah, we gave her the choice, and if she'd said no, we would have said fine, but there was pretty much no question that she was going to do it. And, like I said, God never came up. Why? Maybe because God just isn't a big part of our religious life. I mean, we go to the Unitarian church of synagogues for a reason. I mean, I don't even think our rabbi believes in God. We're all about the community and the values and the ritual, and, interestingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, that's what we're emphasizing in M's bat mitzvah (interesting because we never overtly said that was what we were going to emphasize, it just kind of happened; not surprising because, well, duh, that's us).

And, you know, it's not that I don't believe in God, or that I do. I just kind of don't go there. I mean, I certainly don't believe in an old white guy with a beard handing out commandments. But I'm not quite sure I think we're just collections of atoms obeying physical laws either.

Hmm, now I've gotten to the point where I really should make a point, but I don't know what it is. The one conclusion I feel like drawing, and it might be the conclusion to a different post, is that although I am capable of angsting on just about anything and everything, I simply don't have angst about Judaism, our synagogue, M's bat mitzvah...or God. M and S don't seem to either. And for that, I'm glad.

Edited to add: Of course I have angst about sucky Jews who do sucky things, but that's different. In fact, I think that angst is to some degree predicated upon the absence of general religious angst, but please don't ask me to explain how that is the case.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

An Insanely Compulsive Book Post

I have been compulsively organizing books all day, and I'm feeling highly unappreciated. S has assured me that he appreciates me, because I was all grownup, and told him that I was feeling unappreciated, and I do believe him, but, as I also told him, he can't truly appreciate, because he does not truly get what I have done. He acknowledged that this was the case, and reiterated his appreciation, like the grownup he also is. Still, I feel the need to document, for the record, as it were. And, those of you who can appreciate--I know you're out there, and you know who you are--I expect FULSOME and public appreciation.

There are a lot of books. Like, you cannot even imagine how many books there are. OK, maybe you can, and maybe you can too, but, no, those of you who can imagine can only imagine in comparision, because the books have never been in one place, out of boxes, in....mmm, perhaps since we left California? And, since then, the books have probably tripled in number. And the number grows, well, not quite every day, but certainly every week, because books enter this house new, used, pre-publication, in the mail, from friends, from grandparents, from stores...we have practically every kind of book you can imagine, coming from everywhere, in at least five languages, and if you're thinking it's out of control, well, it is. And if you're thinking why don't we just get rid of the damn books, well, we've considered, and we've attempted, and we've gotten rid of a few boxes (mainly mysteries), and we've barely made a dent, and we've bought new bookshelves.

When we moved into this apartment, we had seven bookshelves (alas, no built-ins). Since we renovated, we've unpacked, recycled, and bought an additional ten bookshelves. Then there are the piles. We are trying to ameliorate the piles. Please note that, aside from the buying (and putting together), which has been valiantly accomplished by S, most of the "we" in this post is me, though the accumulative "we" is all of us.

As I believe I've blogged before, I have always wanted to organize the books by color. But my desires are always powerful and fraught, confined by the sense of loss inherent in gain, anxious of consequences, yet determined to prevail. This one was no different.

The books are being organized by color. The yellow shelf is most fantastic in its lurid glow. It provides a lovely sample of juxtaposition: Advertisements for Myself, The Iliad, The Birth of Pleasure (Gilligan), Deadly Allies II, and down the way The Book of God and Man, The White Goddess, A Middle East Reader, Manifesta. The playroom has two white cases of white books. The black books are forbidding; I'm sure we'll never find anything there again. I am quite in love with red, purple, and orange.

But I couldn't go all the way. There is an entire bookcase, next to my desk, of books related to one of my major projects. The guidebooks are together; as are the books about writing; the Torahs, Megillahs, Haggadahs, and prayerbooks; and there is one shelf with Freud and Shakespeare. Each of these are on small shelves, in a tall narrow case.

I also reorganized the fiction, which is together, alphabetical, in the living room and dining room. Three cases. Reorganization needed to make way for additional books, unpacked and acquired since we moved in. This gave me enormous pleasure, and I tried to decide which shelf was my favorite, but how do you choose between Dickens-Eggers and Laurence (Margaret)-Mann? Or, really, between any of them?

I tried to get rid of Tibetan, Hawaiian, and Native American anthologies, but...who has Tibetan, Hawaiian, and Native American anthologies? Or such a collection of 1980s poetry and feminism? To get rid of it is to eliminate history. What if someone needs them someday, and we have them? Can't do it.

OK, I'm feeling better now. Back to it. Only three more boxes to unpack, and maybe a dozen piles. And then I can rest, for maybe a month, till they start piling up again...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Facebook, Passover, Arab, Jew

Is Facebook killing my blog? Or perhaps I should ask: is Facebook the final blow to my slowly-dying blog? Given the likelihood that I will now start posting three times a day, as I generally do, whenever I predict the death of my blog, perhaps not, but it kind of feels that way. 160 words seem sufficient these days (or, in the New Facebook, 420 words, as Phantom has recently proven, in her Facebook guise as herself) .

Take Passover. I could have blogged the Tuesday night Chocolatissimo extravaganza, the Wednesday night seder, the Thursday night seder--produced entirely by S, aside from Chocolatissimo, because I have sworn never to produce another seder--with its six competing Haggadahs, and the Best Passover Play Ever.

Instead I wrote two status updates--"2 1/2 pounds butter, 2 1/2 cups sugar, 21 eggs, 1 1/2 pounds chocolate (soundtrack: Bob Marley)" and "Seder highlight: two-girl performance of the Passover story featuring E as Moses, Miriam, AND Pharoah's daughter, and M as Pharoah coming back as a zombie after drowning in the Red Sea...because everything is better with zombies."--and that was pretty much dayenu.

But tonight I watched the last two episodes of Season Four of Project Runway, and I had to return to the blog.

If you're not hanging out with me on Facebook--most of you who know me are, I think, but presumably there are more of you out there, so sorry about this--you don't know that I have belatedly caught up with the rest of the world and discovered Project Runway, to great joy of discovery and great sadness of belatedness. Over the last two weeks, M, E, and I have watched all of Season Four. We knew who won at the end, but we still got into it, and I have to admit that I was a Rami fan. I liked his clothes, I liked his voice, I liked his attitude, I liked his looks, and he was from Israel, which made me warm up to him in that identity kind of way.

Except, in the next-to-last episode, I discovered that though Rami is from Israel, he is an Arab. Which is completely fine, and I liked him just as much (really, I am not protesting too much; in fact, I'm about to make a completely different point). What was fascinating about this discovery is that I had completely assumed he was Jewish, and he, Rami, in looks and persona, could just as easily be a Jew as an Arab. This is not, of course, an original point. One of the great tragedies of the Arab/Israeli situation, especially vis-a-vis Palestinians and other Arabs in Israel, is how incredibly similar they are in looks, attitude, culture. Not the pasty-faced residents of Mea Shearim, or the burkha-clad Hamas chicks, but the secular, modernized Middle Eastern Arabs and Jews, the ones who would be us, if we lived in the Middle East. Think Ishmael and Isaac: brothers.

On Wednesday night my father-in-law lectured us about Gaza, and I felt my usual depressed guilty boredom. The Middle East is this constant tragedy in the world and my life, but usually it is just a dull painful fact. Sometimes, though, the tragedy comes dramatically alive, and it just makes me want to weep. Who would have thought that Project Runway would be a source of such awareness?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Self Esteem and the Reality-Based Community

I once gave what I still consider to be good advice to a friend who shall not be named. The advice was to pretend that she lived in the reality-based community.

This friend did not think very highly of herself, but pretty much the rest of the world thought she was the cat's meow. Generally, if most people think a thing is true, it is (OK, that statement is so wrong, I don't even know where to begin--creationism? the musical value of Britney Spears?--but I need it to write this post, so can I just leave it?) (Except, oh no, what if it disqualifies the whole post? Shit. Well, I'm in now, so I might as well keep going; we'll reevaluate at the end.). Anyway, I argued that, rather than wallowing in her own negative self-image, she should pretend that the rest of the world was correct in their assessment of her--she didn't need to actually believe that she was the cat's meow; she just needed to operate as if she believed it, and that in turn would stop the negative self-image from being such an obstacle for her.

Hmm, I never asked her if this advice worked. Man, maybe I should just give up on this post, instead of digging myself in even deeper. No, I am intrepid, I am confessional, I shall go on.

Advice is much easier to give than to follow.

I recently lost a big chunk of my work for complicated reasons that have not so much to do with me and much to do with the circumstances of the work. Hmm, that sounds like a layoff. It's not a layoff; it's a distinct rejection of me, complete with rationalizations and underlying motives, but the bottom line is that I am great at this work, and I was prevented from doing the job effectively, and other people have issues, and I am being replaced. Oh dear, that sounds like I am rationalizing, but you'll have to take my word for it: on the facts of my no longer having this work, I am very much a member of the reality-based community, and a somewhat indignant but also relieved one at that, because, really, doing this work, which should have been perfect for me, sucked a lot, because of the circumstances. As for the consequences, my other major client is thrilled that I now have more availability and is determined to pounce on me for lots more hours, so I am likely to live happily ever after, or at least as happily as one can live when one has no idea what one wants to do with one's life in the worst recession of one's lifetime.

OK, blah blah, very nice, what's the problem?

The problem is that even though the entire world, basically, is rallying behind me in indignation, I still feel, sometimes, that basically I do totally suck, I have never succeeded in much of anything, and this really was my fault. Believe me, I have the evidence. And I spiral spin down into doldrums of bleakness, and hate myself, and think all those people who think I'm great at what I do must either be wrong or lying. And then I hate myself for being so dependent on other people's opinions of me that I can hate myself for losing work I didn't even want, and decide I am worthless because other people must be lying about my worth.

At those moments, the reality-based community seems a faraway figment of someone else's imagination.

But here's the good thing about this current intermittent bout of self-loathing. It is, in its intermittency, mercifully short-lived. I had a bad period this morning, after an unpleasant interaction, and I wrote the first three paragraphs of this post. Then I went on with my day, and eventually I felt fine again, which, thankfully, is what seems to be happening most of the time (which is kind of unusual for me: generally I do bad with occasional bouts of good, so I am quite thrilled by fine with occasional bouts of bad, except during the bad).

Hmm, how do I wrap this up? I think, now that I am fine again, that I stand by my contention about the reality-based community. If, overall, one has gotten highly positive validation on most fronts, one should accept the value. However, the problem of judging one's worth on the basis of the judgement of others remains, and that, I think, is one of my biggest problems, and I just have no idea how to get away from it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Evil Stepmothers: Myth and Reality

Between us, the people in my innermost circle have had five stepmothers and one stepfather. The stepmothers have been, to a woman, difficult at best, appalling at worst.

My stepfather, on the other hand, is a paragon. He is loving, supportive, and unobtrusive, always delighted to welcome my mother's children and grandchildren, never intrusive or difficult, with regard to us or my mother. This stems in part from his personality: he is loving, supportive, and unobtrusive.

But our ease with him (now--I hated him for years, but that was about me, not him) also stems, I'm quite sure, from the way he and my mother set up their relationship. Coming together when their children were grown, or nearly so, they each kept responsibility (financial, emotional) for their own. I have never asked my stepfather for anything (significant--I'm sure I've asked him to pass the salad), and he has never told me what to do.

As importantly, my mother has always been financially independent--her own salary, pension, bank accounts--and, aside from the house they bought together, their finances are separate. Perhaps it is not coincidental, then, that she appears to be a stepmother as benign as my stepfather.

Yesterday, when I started thinking about a post on stepmothers (stimulated by current events in other people's lives, not my own), I was thinking along the lines of a disappointed rant against evil stepmothers who live up to their stereotypes, thus betraying the feminist cause. And, don't get me wrong, there are some serious bitch stepmothers out there. But I also know, though not from personal experience, that there are some godawful stepfathers. So why the hate on stepmothers?

All of the stepmothers I'm intimately involved with came along, like my stepfather, when we were adults, so issues of childrearing, authority, etc., were less salient. Money, on the other hand, has been highly salient, and this is where I need to pull in the materialist feminist analysis.

You're older; you haven't worked, or haven't worked in a while, or haven't worked enough; you've been married to this man for some time now; perhaps he's ailing and you need to care for him; perhaps you're ailing and wondering who will care for you; the house and bank accounts may be in his name; you have lots of reasons to wonder what will become of makes perfect sense, then, that you would try to secure your financial future, and get your own needs met, regardless of his children, whom you've only known as adults. And those children...they place demands on your husband, they pull him from you, they are entitled, when you are the one who lives with him day to day, who care for him, who makes his home (this is, for now at least, surely a generational argument).

Stepfathers, in general, do not face these challenges. They are, largely, financially independent, and often, if they are of their generation, emotionally independent as well. They are free, thus, to be independent of our emotions.

Stepmothers get the short end of the stick, so I can understand why they throw that stick back at us. Still, I wish they wouldn't.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why I Paid No Attention to Earth Hour

Because I don't think it will make a difference in either energy consumption or energy policy.

Because my family has spent plenty of time without electricity (hello, we lived in a tent), so I feel no need to raise our consciousnesses.

Because I'm kind of over symbolic action.

Because I don't listen to NPR.

Because it never crossed my mind to pay attention to it.

Because whenever I get dozens of tweets and Facebooks telling to do something (or telling me that everyone is doing something), I feel compelled to be ornery.

Because, after a Saturday of two parents at work and two children outside all day with babysitter, we were in various stages of incipient to fullblown crankiness, and a Project Runway episode seemed like the perfect occupation to generate familial harmony.

Because I'm sure I'm going straight to hell for various other sins of political incorrectness, not to mention general ill temper and evil doing, so I might as well just go.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bat Mitzvah Chronicles

Between now and the bat mitzvah, I have three deadlines, S and I each have two benefits, and E is in a play. The first two benefits are on the same night; my second benefit is on the first night of E's play, and S's is on the second night. Did I mention that the bat mitzvah is three weeks from tomorrow?

Last week I had a horrifyingly realistic bat mitzvah anxiety dream. The party was in a hotel, in the kind of big open space that hotel restaurants and bars tend to occupy, and strangers kept wandering in and hanging out and eating our food. There were all these weird small and square tables, instead of the big round tables we are supposed to have. There were pink paper tablecloths on top of the teal and purple cloth tablecloths we're supposed to use. There were sandwiches, but no bagels, like we're supposed to have. The DJ had been placed in another room, and we could barely hear him. Then he was scrambling to find a place to put his equipment in our room, and trying to DJ at the same time. I was completely freaking out, and S kept saying "Don't worry, it will be fine" (which is what he really will say if any of this really does happen).

The weirdest real life aspect of the bat mitzvah is the postcards. The invitation included purple reply postcards with bright tropical fruit postcard stamps. A rush of them arrived right after we sent the invitations, and now there are one or two each day. But here's the weird thing: we have been receiving postcards we've already received, again, in our mailbox. First we received J and M's from No Longer Red State for the second time, then Lucy's, and today the M-F family's. At first I thought maybe J and M had gotten two invitations, but it had the exact same note. As did the others. They are really the same card, and somehow they are getting from my desk back into the mail. Very weird.

M is almost ready. She just has to write her dvar, and she has it outlined.

I suppose we are pretty ready. Really, I would still say that doing a bat mitzvah is not such a big deal. It has not taken over our lives, we are not consumed by it, perhaps because we also have deadlines and benefits and plays (M's play was last weekend). Then again, there's the matter of my to do list.

Last week, I freaked out and announced to M and S that we were making a to do list right now this very minute. Funny: they didn't have much to put on the list. But I did. Here's the list, with the things that I've done crossed out, just as they are in my datebook:

OK, no crossouts, as I can't figure out how to do that in Blogger, so here is the list with asterisks next to the things that are done:

M - sweater, shoes*
B - shoes*
S - dry cleaner
table seating
oneg for Friday night
Chinese restaurant for Friday night
cupcake papers
poems for service
slide show
screen & projector
dessert transportation
gluten-free something

Haven't gotten too far, have I? Some of these things are not so much as they sound--deli and desserts are pretty set, we just need to check in. I've started the program, and actually sketched out the seating, in a moment when I felt like I had to do something. If we don't do the slide show, it doesn't happen. But, uh, still, there are some things to do.

And then there's the other list, on the other side of the page, which is the non-bat mitzvah to do list, but which includes some things that need to happen before the bat mitzvah, like dealing with the 20-odd boxes of books we've just retrieved from Grown-Up E's house, since Grown-Up E has decided to sell her house, and needs our boxes out.

So, yeah, the bat mitzvah is coming up.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Seeking the Spotlight

I have this idea that, back in the day, Gloria Allred was an impressive and reputable feminist lawyer, and I was going to write a brief, sarcastic post about her publicity-hounding Octomom hounding. Then I went to her Wikipedia listing (because her own website was down, though now it's back up), and discovered that it's more complicated than that. On the one hand, she's done a lot of awesome work for women and gays and lesbians; on the other hand, she's also been stirring the celebrity pot for a long time.

I suppose I should get it--she's in LA, publicity is the currency of our time, fame is a drug--but I just don't. You could have a reputable and lucrative career for yourself, and instead you're keeping someone in the news who should be allowed to fade out and cope with the chaos of her own life--not that the Octomom isn't equally culpable, but what is to be gained by reporting her for child abuse, besides your own name in the paper (on TV, all over the internet...). Then again, maybe this is why I'm not rich and famous.

(But ethical I am. Damn ethical. Wasting away on all my ethics.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Good Deeds

This essay made me happy. It's a delightful read, and I love both the story, and the moral, overtly stated in the third-to-last sentence. I especially liked reading it today, because yesterday I helped an elderly woman who fell in Downtown Town--helped her up, drove her home, helped her find a friend to take her to the emergency room for what seemed like a dislocated shoulder--and it was such a good feeling to help someone for no reason except that she needed help, and I was there to give it to her. Life should be more like that.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Re: Sentence of the Day

Just need to make sure you all know that my husband announced yesterday that he wanted to see this Thai martial arts movie he read about. Yes, he too responded to that review, and now you can see the difference between us (the only one? I think not!) (yes, he went; I stayed home and stressed out about summer camp).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Technology and Autonomy

I think I've figured out why Twitter doesn't work for me, and it's the same reason chat/IM/AIM doesn't work for me (except with you, M--don't worry, I'll keep it on).

I am undoubtedly an internet addict. I spend way too much work time, leisure time, and stupid time online. I blog, I Facebook, I read, I watch, I surf, I email incessantly. I text too, a lot. But what characterizes all those activities is that I do them on my own time. I control them (or, at least, I let myself think I do).

An interesting thing about different cybermodalities is that they have different norms, even if they are enacted with the same technology. For instance, now that I have my Blackberry, I am often texting and emailing with the same keyboard, i.e. the same capacity, yet I punctuate and capitalize correctly when I email, and I don't worry about it when I text.

The norm for email is that you reply when you are ready. The norm for chatting is that you reply as soon as you receive.

I hate that. I don't like being interrupted. I don't like feeling guilty if I don't respond immediately. I don't want to have a conversation when I don't want to (this is why I often don't answer the phone).

I used to have little indicators that showed when I had an email or a post on my reader. I turned them off. Even though I check my email and reader frequently. I check when I want to, not when they want me to.

The point of Twitter is to get it all in real time, ideally streaming down the side of your screen. At least I think that's the point, because I don't do it. I don't want other people's thoughts streaming down the side of my screen, when I'm trying to put my own thoughts together. So, although I catch up on the few Twitters I follow every day or so, it's just not my priority.

On the other hand, I am loving my Blackberry, which seems kind of counter-intuitive, given that it forces all my cyberactivity in my face all the time. But here's the thing: with the Blackberry, I know what's there, and I can get it when I want; the counter-intuitive response is that I no longer have this feeling that something may be happening, and I may be missing it, so I need to check, now.

When I was a freshman in college, my best friend and I used to pick up the silent phone to see if anyone was there, we were so desperate for something interesting to happen. It never did, of course. Just like my hours on the internet rarely turn up anything I really want.

Yes, it all comes back to Lacan, as it always does.

Since I got the Blackberry, I have spent much less time online. I don't turn on the computer to check my email, and then surf around, habitually, to see what's there, finding nothing. I just check the necessities on the Blackberry, put it down, and go on with my life.

I like it.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A New Era

Look! I can blog from my blackberry!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Grandmas and Kids

Look! It's another NY Times trend story with no legs. Does Jack Shafer do the mommy beat?

Apparently some moms are pissed off that their own mothers do not help take care of their grandchildren. The story quotes four moms, an academic (gender studies), and a psychiatrist. The closest it comes to quantitative data is a report from the senior product manager of Urban Baby that "complaints about uninvolved grandparents are a recurring theme," and the claim that "They are also a theme among certain of Dr. Saltz’s patients." The only concession that there might be another side? "Many young parents, of course, complain of smothering attention from grandparents who won’t leave them or their children alone."

Mmm, I'm convinced.

Of course, happy families make bad press. Lots of us have loving grandparents who are around when we need them and when they want to be, even if there are occasional glitches and conflicts. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least a half dozen families in Town alone where grandparents regularly hang with grandchildren, to everyone's benefit. And, hey, where you have no statistics, my anecdotes are as good as yours!

But two things trouble me about the article, besides the pathetic journalism.

1) It's all about bashing the maternal sex. The grandmothers are selfish; the moms are demanding; they all suck. The dads and grandfathers? Nowhere to be found, but presumably aloof and saintly.

2) I suppose, living in our confessional culture, I shouldn't be, but I continue to be surprised and, honestly, a little shocked, that people would be so angry at their mothers that they would go on the record about it in a major newspaper. I mean, if your mother embezzled your life savings, or prostituted you to buy crack, sure, plaster her sins on billboards over the world. But you think she doesn't help enough with the kids? Isn't that for you and her to deal with? Or you and your partner? Or you and your shrink? Or you and your friends (because what are friends for, if not complaining about your family)? But the NY Times? Get over yourselves. Besides, why would you want someone around your kids who didn't want to be there? (Like I said: your shrink would be a good place to go with that one.)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


A very long time ago, I became the boss. Just as I started in my new role, I had a conversation with another boss that I've never forgotten. "I love my job," he said, "because I get to spend all day helping people do what they want to do." Wow, I remember thinking, what a great way to think about this position, and that's how I thought of it, the whole time I did it. (You can probably tell, from this anecdote, that I do not work in realms where the job of the boss is to make as much money as possible, but I'm guessing that you already knew that.)

So I did that job for a while, and it was my favorite job ever, and I was very sad when I had to leave it for inescapable reasons. But that concept has always stuck with me. In fact, I think that one of the things I am truly best at is helping other people do what they want to do. I do some other things well too, but that's one of my strongest skills. It's what I've spent a lot of my career doing--or at least how I've conceptualized a lot of what I've done throughout my career--and it's quite central to a lot of different pieces of my work right now (not just the obvious piece, for those of you who know what I do).

Basically, as a consultant, that's what I do: help people do things better. And here's the thing: it is fabulous work. When I show up, people are ecstatic. They know that I am going to solve their problems, or help them work more effectively, or get them what they need to do their work, or, often, just listen to them, and make them feel better about their work (which, in turn, helps them do their work better). It's amazing, really, how much people love being helped. You'd think they might be defensive, or anxious, or fearful of the consequences, but that has not been my experience at all.

I think that, as adults, we rarely have people pay full attention to us. I mean, there's therapy, and some people pay for life coaches, but at work, you're often on your own (or badly supervised--don't get me started on bad supervision), and to have support from someone else who is not going to judge you--positively or negatively--but is just going to help you...well, that's an incredible luxury, even a gift, and people love it.

And I get the incredible pleasure of seeing people smile every time I walk in the room; of having people say "I never saw it like that," or "Wow, you've helped me so much," or "Now I feel like I can do it." I get to make people feel better, and do better.

These days the big picture of my work is pretty stressful. I think most people are stressed about work these days--just about everyone I know has too much or not enough. I have too much right now, but I'm terrified of ending up with none. I have had a string of killer deadlines, and I'm starting to think that string may be endless. I'm also dealing with some difficult people--not many, just three, and there are a lot of wonderful people in my work world, really, quite a lot, but those three are pretty central and can be pretty difficult. So it's important for me to remember that I'm doing something I'm really good at, that's really worth doing, and that makes other people really happy. And makes them smile!

(How's that for a positive post?! Did I karmically cancel out all those whiny Facebook status updates?)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Cat News Flash!

Turns out Johnny is Junie and Junie is Johnny.

S took a close look, and figured out that the cat we have been callling Junie on the assumption that she is a three-year-old female is in fact a male, and the cat we have been calling Johnny, believing him to be a one-year-old male is...female. We've gone back into the paperwork, and the mistake was perhaps made by the shelter, but could hinge on interpretation of terms like calico and tiger, given that they are both basically white cats with yellow splotches.

However, given that they have been neutered, and we have bonded with them as is, and they seem to be getting to know their names...we are now the owners of a one-year-old male cat named June Carter and a three-year-old female cat named Johnny Cash.

In other cat news, they are definitely out from under the bed, roaming the house, and quite snuggly. However, Junie has just started to scratch the sofa, which makes me not so happy. But S is getting a scratching post today (and I am trying not to think about the fact that our last cats disdained the scratching post and preferred the shelves of records, which is why all our records have shredded spines).

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Modern Love Scores!

Actually, I can't really evaluate the quality of the essay, because I've read the book. The essay is pieced together from a couple of different passages in the book, so I don't know if it stands alone. But the book is phenomenal. I wasn't going to blog about it till it comes out in a few weeks, but I figured I might as well put in a plug now, especially because you know how I usually feel about Modern Love...

Anyway, it's another memoir by a writer--as opposed to memoir by a celebrity or someone picking up the pen for the first time to tell their amazing story. But she does have a pretty amazing story. When she was four or five, her parents met another couple, and the two couples, who had daughters the same ages, split up and married each other, leaving each set of daughters with the other girls' father. There's a lot more to it than that, plotwise, but what's truly amazing about The Sisters Antipodes is the writing and thinking. Jane Alison is just a stunning writer, whether she's writing about the Australian landscape, missing her father, or how a child tries to unravel the nature of thought--as someone who was once a child trying to unravel the nature of thought, I can vouch that she gets it exactly right. She also gets real life in Washington D.C. just right, not to mention alienation in the Ivy League. Really, it's just a remarkable book (read at a moment when I'd just finished or abandoned a string of mediocre books, making it even more of a jolt of pleasure).

In other reading news, we received a shipment of British magazines yesterday, via the traveling relatives conduit, and I must affirm once again the great superiority of the British Sunday newspaper magazine, which is snarky, edgy, and entertaining, rather than...well, rather than boring, self-important, and expensive (expensive in the sense of catering to an expensive life, rather than costing a lot), like the Sunday newspaper magazines we usually read around here.

We also have our very own copy of Issue 1 of Love Magazine, with naked Beth Ditto on the cover, along with Courtney Love, Iggy Pop, and the same luxe ads we've already seen this month in the Michelle Obama Vogue (love love love the Michelle/Queen Rania/Carla Bruni articles) and various other magazines (it's been a big magazine month around here). So, yes, the fashion/celebrity media machine is fundamentally the same in its capitalist underpinnings, but, still, the British versions have that edge that Americans simply never achieve, even--or especially--when they try.

(M thinks I should write something about her in this post.) (E says, "And me!")

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Could This Be More Annoying?

Pretentious foodies + self-congratulatory Brooklyn

Makes me want to eat a Big Mac. In Trenton.

Maybe I Should Start Reading Huffington Post

I had no idea the Obamas have been so busy. And I have to admit that I'm curious about why Michelle wears sleeveless dresses so often. Huh, looks like someone else is wondering too. But I somehow do not think that's the explanation.

Me? I don't remember the last day I did not wear a sweater. But today I wore shoes, not boots!