Thursday, December 28, 2006

Great Expectations

I ended my last post with a teaser about why I hate New Year's Eve. I have been thinking about it during my convalescence, and I've come up with my only, truly, flatfooted feelings about New Year's: It's dumb. Why do I think it's dumb? It seems like a truly arbitrary thing to me to celebrate.

I mean, regardless of whether you think that many holidays have been overcommercialized (Valentine's, Halloween, Christmas)-- and they have-- I think they somehow serve some deep emotional needs we have as human beings: respectively, the need to love and be loved, the need to play with social roles and identities, and the need to commemorate the waning and waxing of light.

And New Year's? I suppose it's to mark the passage of time. Somehow that one just doesn't work for me, however, because every holiday helps mark the passage of time. That's why people get giddy or married or suicidal around holidays.

Yes, somehow New Year's is one of those things that seems to be particular to only some of our species. Sort of like cruises. I went on a cruise once, with my dad after graduating high school (ok, not the greatest idea for a cruise date, but nonetheless). I never before and certainly never since have thought the idea of going on a cruise was fun. It's meant somehow for a target group that I don't belong to, never will. Same as New Year's.

In fact, the more of a non-event New Year's is, the better. My fondest New Year's Eve was the most forgettable-- watching "Blazing Saddles" with my (then) soon-to-be husband and falling asleep at 10pm.

The other New Year's where I allowed myself to be coaxed into black-tie events, setting off fireworks (well, watching fireworks being set off), or getting drunk and simultaneously hopped-up on rum and cokes were all variously forced disasters.

But perhaps I not only have a distaste for New Year's but actively hate it is because it comes with so many expectations. Particularly: The New Year's Kiss. Think When Harry Met Sally. Think: Romantic Love that rides in on a white horse and Saves You. And I've never bought that. I was never the little girl playing wedding. I was the little girl whose barbies only had a Ken around to get it on. Then he was discarded, back to the bottom of the pile to await his next romantic engagement.

That's not to say that I feel that men are to be used and discarded. It just means that I have a general distrust that Love Can Save You/God Can Save You or that there is anything Miraculous from On High that must come in and Transform you.

Ask my cousin. Even the holidays that I celebrate with glee are peppered with play and antithesis. At one Passover Seder that she and I jointly held which was mostly attended by non-Jews, we convinced two men that the traditional hunt for the piece of matzah called the Afikomen had to be done in the manner of a three-legged race.

And why not?

The problem is that New Year's has everything to do with glamour and triumph. What's to do about that? The only thing I've figured out is to slink around and do my best to act as though it doesn't exist. Maybe make a cheese fondue if I must.

So, you out there-- yes YOU! I'm not saying that I'm going to become an avid New-Year's-celebrating, cruise-going fool, but on the off chance that I decided to do something about my New Year's attitude problem, what should I do? That's what that little comment doo-hicky is for at the bottom here anyway, in case you were wondering. Comment away...

Friday, December 22, 2006

Why the Jewish People don't decorate more

I've been trying to wrench myself out of a day-and-a-half-long humbug. Or should that be capitalized? Humbug. Post-wretched-stomach-ailment, you'd think I'd be simply happy to exist. But noooooooooooo.

Today I took a few of my son's "extra" Hanukkah toys to drop off at Toys for Tots because last night I got almost physically sick again seeing all the wrapping paper strewn about and him ignoring yet MORE toys. I mean, this kid has TOYS. He doesn't need more toys. Good toys, perhaps. He is a quick little guy and very curious. But not in terms of sheer number. We don't need another dump truck. Or another yellow dump truck, for that matter. We have three of those.

OK, so you see where I'm headed. To be perfectly honest, the kid is 1 1/2. Either send some money to his college fund or make a donation to UNICEF or Heifer International in his name. But apparently that would spoil the fun. Hmmmph. Fun. Humbug.

Not that I am into denying my child things or fun, for God's sakes. I'm all about fun! I love things! I am not one of THOSE people! I put up little twinkly lights! I love those pasty sugar-laced red and green christmas cookies!

It's just, somehow, like Aunt Bettye used to say, "Genuf"-- yiddish for enough already! Quit the crap!

I can't tell you how good it felt to drive my car up to the door of the mall, put on my blinkers, and liberate my car from those toys! And to know that they were going to kids who will be thrilled to pieces-- no shit!-- with those toys my son would not pay attention to.

I'm actually wondering if I can make this a sort of tradition for the holiday season. As Jews, we get the benefit of often celebrating and opening presents before the rest of everyone, so perhaps we should take that extra 'leg-up' and use it to re-gift.

I'm not saying necessarily the terrible toys only, I'm just saying, maybe as my son gets older, we make a purposeful decision to have him participate in giving on to other kids at the holiday season and at his birthday. Perhaps things he thinks other kids will like. Sort of like tzedakah or tithing. But somehow, for a kid, I think this is also more real than if you did it with money (at least while he's this small).


...And speaking of the "holiday" season, there was a funny article in the NYT about a Jewish woman in L.A. in a predominantly Orthodox neighborhood who has been raising eyebrows because she does a huge holiday light display on her house. (Go read it-- the pictures are nice of the display). My favorite is when they ask one (also Jewish) neighbor about whether it bothers her and she says:

“I think it is just wonderful. I don’t know why the Jewish people don’t decorate more.”

Love it!


Next, perhaps we will turn our eyes to "New Year's Eve: The Night I Would Rather Stay Home Watching 'Blazing Saddles' and Falling Asleep By Ten". Ho Ho HO!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Slim City

I must take a short aside and apologize for my non-presence in the past week: On Sunday night, after a third-night latke-fest, I got really sick and have been trying to get back to zero ever since. It wasn't the latkes, in case you were wondering. No one else got sick from them (thank God! After the incident a few years ago when I almost gave everyone at my 30th birthday party whooping cough, I don't need any additions to my Typhoid Mary resume).

In the meantime, and in various states of consciousness, I have had a lot a-buzzing in my head, much of which will span over multiple posts, lest I spend all my little hard-earned whack-a-mole and skiball tickets too quickly.


Since I am still in a period of official recovery, I would like to take a moment and thank our Sponsors: namely The Husband. The Husband is Amazing (TM) at marshalling the troops. For three days he did the Mom and Dad deeds and with Such Panache! And, Bless His Heart [sic] last night he went out in the pouring rain to Target (TM) to fetch this poor organic mama some good ole Campbells Condensed Chicken Soup (TM)-- the kind where I'm presuming it's better to add your own water because lordy knows, given the chicken they use, what the water is like! It was Deee-licious (TM) and oh-so-worth it. Highly Recommended. I'd definitely take this class from him again (Oops. I was using a #3 pencil. Do I have to start over?)


Friday, December 15, 2006

Documentation, Please!

My family growing up never set foot in an Olin Mills, JC Penney or Sears photo studio. In my childhood pictures, there were no poses, no props. The only nod to formality came once a year when school photos were taken. I had to lobby my mom to actually buy them.

I always sort of felt sleighted by that-- the fact that other kids' parents would go through this strange ritual of primping and propping and buy tons of wallet-sized pics while my parents never carried wallets with those little plastic sleeves, so why go through it all in the first place?

At some point I just figured it was something we didn't do, like the other things we didn't do. We didn't have the ubiquitous green bean casserole at Thanksgiving either and lord knows that was a blessing in disguise. Perhaps these things are just things that other people do, I reasoned-- people who are more normal than we are (and by extension, probably less interesting).

Yes, somehow formal portraiture which can sometimes be cheesy, but sometimes really sweet, became in my mind a declasse event. That shit was for people with ten kids and a single, cave-like staircase to the second floor where the portraits would hang for eons, leaving their marks on the wallpaper discovered when the family home was disassembled when the parents finally kicked it.


I may have one or two stray childhood photos tucked in some box here or there, but the majority of them are stuffed into a never-used writing desk in my mom's home. That's where photographs went. They were never put into books or annotated.

And our poor ancestors... they haven't fared so well either. Their identities are precarious as we rely on my mom's generation to identify them, if it is at all possible anymore. My father thought for sure that my mom still had his childhood photos in a box somewhere until family conferencing made it clear that they were actually in a box in my aunt's attic. Yeah, good luck with that one. After finding out, he seemed relieved. I don't believe there has been any attempt to retrieve them.


Half of my son's relatives live across the ocean. Every couple of months or so we try (try, try!) to remember to send them some pictures via email. The problem with emailed pictures is that they somehow never seem to materialize. They don't end up on the fridge or in a book unless someone goes to pained efforts, straddling the technological divide between JPEG and paper.

And somehow it just doesn't seem satisfying. For them, I think, or for us.

So, in my season of challenges here, I decided to take my son to a portrait studio... a cute one at the mall (Oh lord he repeated after me when I said mall this afternoon- frightening!)

Now don't go worrying here that I've really lost my marbles-- there were no cutesy props, no child riding a prop choo-choo train. My son's hair was tossled and he was his little imperfect self. Which is all that I wanted.

There will be pictures. Just don't expect them wallet-sized.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Blues

Yesterday, while my son was asleep, I made my husband cut a good 2 1/2 inches off my hair. I was just sick of it. Here I am, 4 months into living in a new town and I just couldn't face going to a hairdresser to get what I REALLY wanted-- a medium-length bob. I've been talking about it for months. I've been complaining about my shoulder-length, half-assed chunky-whispy-crappy hair.

Mind you, I was at the hairdresser nary a month ago. I wanted him to transform me. To excavate me from under my hairy mop. He ended up mostly talking about himself and telling me that one of my eyes was more open than the other and then switching my part. He styled me and spritzed me to within an inch of my life and I left feeling like a very coiffed cyclops.

I've been battling the blues off and on for the past week. That's normal for most folks, but something that makes me particularly sit at attention. I have a bit of history, shall we say, with the blue bug. And somehow with me, the blues are particularly marked by a strange combo of stasis (inability to move or change) and these wild spurts of impulsiveness. It's sort of like having your fuel injectors clogged. It makes the ride jumpy and weird.

It also makes me for some reason want to cut my hair off.

Until I got married, I pretty much had pixie-short hair almost all of my life. The main prerequisites for being my hairdresser were as follows: 1) You must be a gay male 2) You must not give me little curlicues or licks or whispy things. I want it straight and clean. It helps if you have a cute accent.

I suppose I always saw my ability to wear short-short hair as a strength. I didn't have to hide behind a pelt of anything. Then, somehow, I discovered a form of patience that grew within me slowly, which allowed me to let my hair be. That patience over the past year has turned to a sort of passive armor. I'm not as skinny as I used to be, I'd reason. The flowing locks go with the flowing body.

Yet somehow, the longer my hair gets, the more attention it requires: it has a tendency to go lopsided or for the curls to wildly spring about and then take a dive. In short, it became high-maintenance.

And then yesterday it just hit me. I needn't make an appointment. Or an excuse. Or explain the way I want it to anybody. I just need a pair of scissors. I was already stripped and ready to get into the shower when I approached my husband in the living room. I said, do you want to cut it or should I? I think I freaked him out. He said what it if is uneven or lopsided? Curls, I said, are forgiving. And to be honest, I don't care if it's even. I just want it cut.

And wouldn't you know it, as soon as that thick brown hair began to fall into the sink, it was like years were being stripped away from me. While we were at it, I convinced my husband to lean over the sink and let me excavate his lovely strong face from the throngs and waves of hair that he has been too lazy to make an appointment to shear.

This haircutting thing took two hours. By the time we were both done and satisfied with the shape and length of each other's hair, my son began to stir upstairs in his crib. The bathroom floor was covered in dark brown hair.


My next turn may be one I've put off for a while: blue.

My hair is raven-black. It is the antithesis of color. And, in the past five years and despite the fact that I'm only 32, I have acquired a frosting of white. Actually, not so much a frosting. More like streaks. Think cruella.

My husband thinks they're bitchin'. I did, too, until they began to spread. A half a year ago I started to cover them. But what I really wanted to do (and want to do) is keep my hair color the same. And color the white blue. Not just a little blue. A lot blue. I want a blue streak.

Since my hair is predominantly black, I think I can get away with it without looking like a total misfit. I just want to look a little bitchin'.

Then I stumbled across this little blurb in the NYT sunday magazine with a wonderful drawing. It talks about what one psychology researcher calls "psychological neotony" which perhaps explains whole hosts of unfitting, rebellious or immature behavior in otherwise mature adults. (Umm, like dying your hair punk blue). He states:

...Social roles have become less fixed in modern society. We are expected to adapt to change throughout our lives, both in our personal relationships and in our careers, and immaturity, as Charlton added, is “especially helpful in making the best out of enforced job changes, the need for geographic mobility and the requirement to make new social networks.” In fact, he speculates, the ability to retain youthful qualities, now often seen as folly, may someday be recognized as a prized trait.

So perhaps if I've got the blues, I should flaunt them. Look out world, here I stutter.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


In Maira Kalman's most recent sketchbook blog for the NYT, she has this wonderful sequence where she finds out that something she had done before contains an accidental message. She once embroidered the German words "Ich habe genug" onto the front of a dress, thinking that they meant "I've had enough. I'm done. It's over" when in reality they mean, without irony, "I have enough".

It reminds me of before I knew German and was trying to be sly and say little things I had looked up from a dictionary. At one turn, I was insistent that someone had a new "-room suite". Of course, no one knew what I was talking about. I assumed that they were just trying to give me a hard time. They weren't. The entry was under 'bed', and '-room suite' obviously required the word bed in front of it. They laughed their asses off at me. I did too.

It just goes to show that often our most studied and emphatic answers undermine our real meaning. There's nothing like a foreign language to take us down a notch from intention. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I love foreign languages so much. Too often in our own language we are so tightly construed that we assume that we say what we mean and that everyone else does too. But language (and people) are much more slippery than that. Slippery in a good way, if you're open to it.


This past weekend I was in the Colorado mountains helping my sister with her newborn twins. It's amazing how quickly those little beings develop, and how quickly one forgets what it is like to tend them day and night, for all intents and purposes, to be them, to fulfill that part of them that is so undeveloped that it requires your constant maintenance.

When I returned I was shocked by how much my son weighs, by his seemingly gargantuan hands. Had he grown while I was away? Possible. Was I simply shocked by the so near comparison between what he had been and what he is? Perhaps. But also on a more elemental scale, it was as if the tides of two separate planets met and filled a lagoon in a sort of eerie, snow-filled moonlight where he and I exist.

Again time is not just subjective, it doubles up on itself like a sort of cats' cradle string game. It is veritably enmeshed, all wonderfully stringed and strung.


I felt so much relief to come back to my life, my house, even the seat of my car. My car-- I know how to drive it.

I do battle against boredom, against stasis. Sometimes it seems like childcare (caring for my child) is simply that-- it's a position I fill, a description that staves me against uselessness. Yet there is so much that requires investment, so much that I put into him, so much in evidence beyond intentionality. Day-to-day that can get lost in the crush of pattern and competence.

Perhaps I must assume my competence, for starters. I am enough. Everything I do above that, that is art.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Full of Light

In John Waters' movie Pecker there is a crazy grandma who thinks her doll version of the Virgin Mary keeps trying to say "full of grace". However, since the grandma is not very good at vantriliquism, what escapes from her pursed lips is "full of grease! full of grease!"

That's how I often feel after a good latke binge at Hanukkah. Nevermind that I've abdicated the making of latkes to my non-Jewish husband. The smell of onion, potatoes and grease is so pervasive, it can winnow its way under closed doors and infuse towels and sheets with its eminence. It's the kind of meal you can burp up for days.

I talk about this because every time this year I start on a guilt binge about the Holidays (capitals intended). I grew up in the age of the Jewish family that had a Christmas tree, which morphed into a Hanukkah bush and then totally disappeared. Yet Hanukkah is a poor replacement for or facsimile of Christmas. (Well, DUH, you say).

By dint of its timing, Hanukkah has been subjected to the seasonal humiliation built by America, for America. Like many 'intermarried' couples, we decided to parse and diagram the situation as we've seen fit. That meant that we didn't celebrate Christmas ourselves... we always went to Germany to 'help' my husband's family celebrate while we variously either lit Hanukkah candles at home or schlepped the menorah with us.

This year, we're staying put. Finally. Not by choice, mind you. If we hadn't just bought a house and a car and a washer and dryer, we'd be all over going to Germany. Stocking up on good chocolate and lovely shoes. But this year it's just not in the cards.

And for me, staying home has brought up all sorts of thoughts. Heck, having a home, knowing that we are 'staying put' for potentially the rest of our lives has added a whole new dimension to my philosophical meanderings and led me to interesting tight spots on many issues.

The deal is: I love string lights. I love them. I love funny glass-blown snowmen and pigs and taxi cabs so thin that even breathing on them can cause them to shatter like a lightbulb. Do you see my quandary? I cannot do these things or have these things because they are so totally owned by Christmas.

I love my neighbors' gaudy holiday displays. I can do without the manger scenes, but otherwise, I really do love them. They make me chipper driving home from the store at 5:15 in the evening when it's already pitch-black and raining sideways.

I've been going through these huge contortions on whether or not I think it's ok for us to string white lights around the little tree outside our front windows. I remember growing up that downtown the trees had white lights on them all year round and I loved that illumination. All the little indirect halos and shadows they threw. Can I not have them? Those lights? The lights that are those wonderful glittery night things?


Garrison Keillor has a short piece on called "Don't Like Christmas? Get a Life" in which he exhorts:
There are people who feel "excluded" by Christian symbolism and are offended by the manger and the angels and the Child, but there have always been humorless, legalistic people. Complaint is an American art form, and in our time it has been raised to an operatic level. To which one can only say: Get a life. When you go to France, you don't expect a stack of buckwheat pancakes for breakfast or Le Monde to print box scores. You're in France. Now you're in America. It's a Christian culture. Work with it.
In true Keillor fashion, he starts the article in one of his run-on descriptive, windy kinds of ways which sort of lull you into feeling whistful and accepting, then drops that little ditty in for good measure. What? Excuse me?

I mean, I'm all for the gingery cookies that he describes. Singing? Check. Gift-giving? Check. Philanthropy? Check. Little lights? Double check. I'm just not for the Christian part of it.


For however half-assed I always feel about Hanukkah, I've come to realize that it's a false bill of goods that I've been selling myself. Any self-respecting Jew knows that Hanukkah is supposed to be a minor holiday. It's a feisty little holiday about perservering. And, may I add, light.

Yup, folks, you heard it here first. Hanukkah is the festival of lights. We start by lighting one candle, then two, and by the time you get to the eighth night your menorah is so caked with crayola-covered wax that it may just take you until next Hanukkah to scrape it clean. And it's fun. You eat lots of fried stuff, exchange little presents. Not a bad little holiday.

It was never meant to compete with the big dogs. The big dogs are so totally beside the point of Hanukkah. Hanukkah is about the small stuff that builds up. The oil in the temple that was only supposed to last for one day and ended up lasting for eight. The little engine that could. The bottomless reserve when we think the little light is going to go out.


I was reading in the NYT about this prayer book from the middle ages they found and discovered that, like many other books of that time, that the physical book was originally another text alltogether, a palimpsest. Because the materials used to make books were so valuable, instead of pitching them when their circulation went down, those ever-crafty monks would scrape the surface of the vellum and literally scrape off the text and write a new one. (Palimpsest is greek for "rubbed again").

Now they are spending tons of money and using all sorts of great technology to "read" and translate this "lost" text, the text behind the text, for its insight.

Perhaps the same is also true with Hanukkah. There is some elemental truth to the winnowing of days, to the losing of light, which makes us crave it that much more. The impulse is ancient. The technology may be different. All sorts of other things have gotten magnetically attracted to the concept like shiny wrapping and Jesus babies and the like. But the light is really where it's at.

Hanukkah is not some sort of overblown Jewish answer to Christmas. Christmas is the overblown answer to Hanukkah.

Reclaim the string lights!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Destination Anywhere

I went blitz-holiday shopping this afternoon while my son and husband were tucked into their respective beds for a winter nap. I came across a book of dirty quotes that I bought for my sister-in-law, a hip young thing. I found one I especially liked:

"I tell you, we are here on earth to fart around, and don't let anyone tell you different"- Kurt Vonnegut


Just about the time I tucked this book into my purse with its receipt, I was receiving a call on my home answering machine from Northwest Airlines telling me that my package had arrived at the Madison airport. The guy said It's leaking pink and green. We're not sure what to do with it. Please call us and let us know if you are going to pick it up.

Pick it up? Wasn't it the fools at Delta who were supposed to have A) gotten it on the right plane in the first place and B) at least try to deliver it or call me begging for forgiveness? It's enough to make you want to lie a bit... tell them the ice cream was for your Aunt Bessie in the nursing home and how disappointed she'd be.

But no, I called and told them to throw it away, as long as I could use their name to corroborate my loss report so I didn't have to jackass across town with my digital camera to photograph the pink and green puddle (Wicked Witch of the West after consuming Pepto Bismol?)


I returned home to find that my ever-industrious across-the-way neighbor had been at it with the holiday decorating. His house is quite primped and lit and symmetrical with its garlands and bows and lights. I can only think he must look over to our darkened house with disappointment (or, perhaps, relief-- my husband installed energy-saver flourescent bulbs outside and we mostly forget to turn them off, which means that our house is forever bathed in that pale, flickery light most often reserved for the outsides of jails and big-box parking lots).

Now that it is dark just before 5pm here, my son is quite captivated driving around town, especially now that people have begun the bedecking of their houses with all manner of lights and snowmen and tableaus of white deer in silhouette. The poor thing-- he almost doesn't know where to look, there's so much going on.


The other thing is that we have been patching my son's strong eye for the past three weeks, hoping that we can strengthen the weaker one. Apparently it's pretty effective, and many kids end up doing it at one time or another. Still, there's something almost sad about having to do it. I know that he will be better for it, he will see better for it, and it is better to do now than when he is 7 and some dopey kid gives him shit about being a pirate or something.

In order to get him to stay still while we put the patch on, we give him two M&M's minis which he joyfully chomps on before revealing a green or blue grin. I ordered these special patches online which are decorated with, variously, stick figures, ladybugs, dalmation spots and the like. Other kids seem to think it's just a big sticker. Though apparently a 5-year-old at the playground this morning accused my son of being a pirate and said that he must be slain. Umm, ok. Get your wacko kid away from mine.

He seems to see not too badly (or at least compensates for it well enough) out of the unpatched eye... obviously, though, his peripheral vision is affected. In some ways he compensates almost too well, which makes me let my guard down. At a playground the other day he walked directly into a woman carrying an infant carrier because he simply didn't see her.

At any rate, he seems much less self-conscious about the whole thing than I do for him. At the very least, he seems to have no concept of how long he's been patched or how long into the future it will continue. He seems to measure things by the pairs of M&M's which come twice daily like tides. Vision is the least of it.


I've always loved people and things that are a little off-kilter. That's one of the reasons I love nicknames-- real nicknames, the earned ones.

I met up with a girlfriend this afternoon and she told me that she had given her daughter an unfortunate haircut. Her new nickname for her daughter is McGuyver, after the eponymous TV show.

My son's nicknames are of an evolving nature. There's the diminutive of his name. Then we turned to Muck-a-muck, which is one of the nonsense syllables he ran around saying at 12 months "muck-a-muck-a-muck-a-muck-a-muck". Today he is I HEART MUCKABEES, a combination of the previous Muck and the wonderfully helium-inspired movie I HEART HUCKABEES where Mark Wahlberg and Jason Schwarzman end up beating the crap out of each other with inflatible pom-pom balls.

One day my son will be able to pronounce his own name. He will stand behind it with all seriousness. I remember giving him that name and at first being so shocked that this little being had this serious, official existence. Now, the shock of the arrival has faded and we are left with this little muck (muecke is the german word for mosquito) who buzzes around us and points out the lights.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Yesterday we returned from our Thanksgiving sojourn to Cincinnati.

Cincinnati is not one of those places that has a cache. Even someone from Oregon is more interesting than someone from Cincinnati.

I spent the years from the time I left for college until I had my son trying to avoid Cincinnati like the plague. To me, that's not a manner of speaking. Whenever I landed I was overcome with physical and emotional torpor. What more can one want from a homecoming, a relaxing vacation? Here, have this coma. No thank you.

Part of it comes from the physical layout of the city. It's built on seven very steep hills (like Rome, everyone said) that rise up from the Ohio River basin. The peculiar geography is both a protection and a trap; it means that tornados can only skirt around the city and hit outlying areas; it also means that air is basically trapped down in the valley, causing pollution and the adored Cincinnati sinus infection which perpetually haunts its inhabitants.

I remember early mornings if it was foggy standing out at the bus stop and smelling the Proctor and Gamble plant making Tide. P&G not only dominates business in the city, it dominates the very air.


I'm not quite sure why the birth of my son has changed my feelings about the city, though I think it is because it has fundementally changed not the city, but who I am.

Somehow before he arrived, every time I went back 'home', I couldn't help being re-haunted by old ghosts. Perhaps it's that same stagnant air that pushes all change to the outskirts. One might call it resilience, one might call it being stuck.

The other thing that comes to me now is that the birth of my son realigned my family. It signalled the final dissolution, interruption of the old order. Somehow the people who spout family values are unable to understand that not all families can be healed by the wave of a magic value wand. My family has been most healed by its dissasemblence, by the fundamental change and growth that has gone on by the parting of ways and the disruption of the old.

Now when we talk about old times, it is almost as if we talk of other people. Lost people, lost places.


There was an article in the NYT today about Cincinnati's inner-city renaissance. The oldest extant part of the city, settled by German immigrants in the mid-1800s and called, fittingly, Over-the-Rhine, is being repopulated as a hip arts neighborhood with condos and cafes.

I actually went to school in an extension of that neighborhood before the school fell into such disrepair it was demolished in the '90s. My school was right across from the high-rise projects, and its students were half from the neighborhood, half bussed-in. It took me 45 minutes on the bus each morning to get to school.

It's probably hard for most people to imagine why I would long for something similar for my son. He will more likely than not go to a brand-spanking-new school which is being built just a mile away from our home out here on the far edge of Madison. Perhaps its the same reason why I adore that he will grow up down the street from a horse farm. Like a palette, a little bit of all things, some sweet, some bitter, some sour, some salty, seems to me the balance most kids achingly need.

As a parent, we wish to spare our kids pain and exposure to unpleasantness. Yet in the process of protecting them, I think we sometimes over-protect them from things that won't necessarily do harm. Perhaps protecting them is really a guise for us protecting ourselves. It is we who have construed our lives so carefully to avoid unnecessary pain.


Yet I know it is foolish... my son's life is only partially mine to construct, and only for a while. The more I get to know him, the more I am aware that he is a being with ideas, instincts, predispositions and, yes, faults all his own. In the same way I have stopped looking for family resemblances behind his face, I have started to accept that he acts as he is, not as I was or his father was or are. And no matter how permanent he seems, he will change. He will not always fight sleep like this or wake up in the middle of the night to be held. Somehow I lose sight of this when it's the middle of the night or the next morning when I can barely see straight and I say to myself, I cannot wait until this is over.

More likely, it will be over and I will miss it. He will be different, and I will be different. We won't be able to resurrect those needs or those people. We will configure our lives and our emotions around a different center. Things that are irksome or difficult or painful lose their charge, reorient, begin their orbit around some other star.

While it is almost self-evident to me that this process stretches far ahead of me, of my son and my family, it is still so strange, so foreign the idea that the past can do the same. Without our conscious knowledge it gets up like those mice in the Nutcracker and walzes around in the middle of the night. No matter how much we know the past by rote, we forget it. Or, having placed it like a pair of old slippers at the side of the bed for so many years, its position has moved slowly, achingly and without our knowledge, a millimeter at a time.


Yesterday on the way to the airport, I hopped out of the car at the Graeter's ice cream factory to pick up 12 pints of ice cream I ordered packed on dry ice. I did that once before when I was pregnant with my son and subsisted on high-calorie milkshakes. Those pints of black raspberry chip and mint chocolate chip were the best I had ever eaten before or since.

At the airport I carefully inscribed our address on the styrofoam cooler with a blue sharpie, making sure to write on the top and sides, in case the two should be separated.

Upon arrival in Madison, the cooler was (you guessed it) nowhere to be found. It was packed with an optimistic 4-5 hours worth of dry ice. Currently, the automated Delta baggage tracking system shows that it has been sitting in Minneapolis-St.Paul for the last twelve hours.

The lost baggage form innocently asks whether the contents of a lost bag are (check one of the following): male, female, child or other. No place to write in a more appropriate description: melted. Shape-shifted. Irretrievably and deliciously gone.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


This is what happens when you drink too much coffee. This morning we went over for brunch at a friend's house, and the second cup of coffee awaited (I normally only drink one). I remember when I was taking creative writing classes and we had a deadline ("one new poem a week") my writing buddies and I would drag ourselves off to a coffee shop called the Daily Grind (apropos) and try to caffeinate ourselves into inspiration. Often we could get something going, but the question is whether it would hold up at all the next day or next week in the light of full posession of our faculties.

That's the problem with coffee-- and with writing. They are fully compelling and enthralling while in the midst of them. Their ardored anticipation (laying in bed in the morning wishing someone else had already done it for you) and the dissolution of their state and effects, not so much. And more seriously speaking, it was never writing itself that I had a problem with. It was always what came in between writing, the before-and-after stuff that dragged me down.

So now it's the afternoon, the child crashed into his nap headlong and as we drove home from the brunch, the across-the-street neighbor had finally surrendered to his task: He had already plucked all but the topmost t.p. streamers from his shade tree. The whole shape of the thing had changed. It maintains its diameter only if seen from above. The concept has discintegrated.

I was catching up on reading and found an article in today's NYT Magazine about good old Paul Muldoon. For those of you unfamiliar, Paul Muldoon is an Irish poet who won the Pulitzer prize for poetry. He also judged the Graduate Poetry contest at U of M while I was there and chose my poems to receive the prize.

This single event was such a strange mixed blessing: It was at once a huge recognition of my poetry and at the same time drew me into the competitive crosshairs of the other grad students. The day after my prize reading, I had an anxiety attack that led to prolonged depression. I left two weeks later and never returned to complete my degree.

Before my prize reading (though after they had announced I had won it) I had the honor of introducing Paul Muldoon at the U of M. Afterwards I had volunteered to drive him to his hotel which was near Georgetown, in the D.C. area affectionately called "Foggy Bottom". For as much as I should have been able to (or wanted to) discuss with him (how often do you get to chauffeur a Pulitzer-prize winner?), I just couldn't. He seemed so tired to me. And also not quite a little concerned about being driven around by some random grad student.

It turns out that he should have been a bit weary of being in the car with me: I didn't know my way around D.C. well at all, limiting my flight patterns to a tired groove which spanned the Beltway between Bethesda and College Park. As anyone who even knows about D.C. knows, there are lots of parts of D.C. you should manage to avoid. I had picked a route that made sense on paper (though I didn't manage to bring that paper with me) and was abandoned to a mere directional sense. As evidenced by the NYT article, all's well that ends well. Paul Muldoon is still alive and kicking, despite my failure to perform.

And yet my graduate poetry award lands on my resumes, it lands on my web site. It seems like something someone should know about me, the me that's on paper. The me that is qualified, the me that's uncomplicated by failure.

As I was reading the article, I started to think: Who is it that I associate with this writing? Who is this other person who has the backstage access, who dispatches the words? She's certainly not the idea I have of myself. There would be too many expectations.


When I was at Trader Joe's last week, there were no balloons. That's a big deal for someone who uses the promise and posession of said balloon to partially tame an explorative toddler into shopping cart submission. I asked at the checkout why no balloons. The guy told me-- I lie not-- there's a helium shortage. I began to ponder what that might mean. Where did helium come from, anyway? Are there helium manufacturing plants with little cleansuited guys running around? The cashier boy suggested that there were Helium mines, pockets of it trapped in the earth. Hmm...

A few days later I was listening to NPR and there was a listener letter responding to a story they'd apparently done on said helium shortage. The listener admonished the reporters for inhaling helium to affect their voices, saying it could cause your lungs to overinflate and burst.

Not that I took that danger vary seriously. Nor do I think it will keep small kids from sucking helium from balloons (once they return). It did make me think, however, about how many small things we take for granted, all of which make up our ideal concept of a balloon.

There is the tensile surface of an inflated balloon which causes a light source to be reflected just so; there is the long strand of ribbon (seems far too puny as a tether for something so buoyant); and there is the weightlessness, the suspension. The top of the balloon like the perfectly-defined arch of a question mark, posed mid-air for the asking.

So many of our concepts are like that: So fragile. Often we can only start to parse them if something is awry. Then we ask: What is wrong here? What is askew? Even slight violations of form or function can catch us off guard (as a helium balloon which, losing its luft, hovers sort of halfway between up there and the ground).

Maybe we should grant even the partial things their wholeness, their own gestalt. The trees half-decked, the laundry partially folded. The writing and the people somewhere hovering in the middle.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nature and Nurture

Last friday it snowed here. We woke up the next morning, the world bedecked in white... toilet paper. Not on our house, mind you, but on the house directly across from us. Our neighbor's small, fledgling trees all aflutter with very careful, deliberate, equal-sized lengths of toilet paper.

Our neighbor is one of those guys who is always out there tending to his lawn. He bags instead of mulching. He edges, for god's sake. He owns a leaf vacuum. Need I say more?

Every day since the snow/draping he's been out there with a bucket dispensing with the soggy toilet paper which has been torn asunder and landed on said lawn. My husband and I have been shocked, though, at his general patience with the grand display: He has not touched it.

We're not quite sure, given his general predisposition for fastidiousness, why we are still gifted by the presence of our neighborhood act a la Christo, even long after the snow has melted away. My playgroup moms agreed-- it looks really cool. Gives some lovely shape to the shade tree which has stood nude and prone since the leaf drop. Even the plumber yesterday was impressed (and he should know from t.p.) He remarked a mess to clean up but damn neat what they did there.

Has our neighbor given his yard up to the expression of communal whiteness here in suburban Wisconsin? Has it driven him to madness? Can you even use a leaf vacuum on wet toilet paper?


My son still isn't talking yet. Or rather, again?

Mind you, he spoke at 12 months. He said trrrrruck! (That's how you'd know when he had woken from a nap).

Then we spent the summer in Germany and he decided (we suppose) Oh, to hell with you people. Truck was just fine with me. Now you want me to call it a Kraftfahrzeug? A Lastwagen? Excuse me??

Now when we look at books with him, he can identify almost anything by its German or English name. By pointing to it. If you ask him what something is, he says ba. Not just ba. Ba! Enthusiastic ba! Take that, you bilingual yuppie academic fiends!

Yesterday I said, is that a squirrel? Quirl, he repeated after me. Today again, quirl. Not that I am expecting much. He's done this before... had a word for a couple of days and then abandoned it to never-come-again.

This word, however, holds particular meaning for me. Long ago when I was in grad school for my MFA in poetry, I got into a knock-down drag-out exchange in a workshop with an eminent poet over squirrels in poems. An avid birder, he didn't like squirrels. Apparently they were always knocking over his birdfeeders and causing general havoc. That was enough to piss him off.

And, as an eminent poet, he could pretty much say whatever he liked. After his comment to me that I should get that f*#ing squirrel out of my poem, he told another woman that she shouldn't write about her children. Squirrels, kids, nobody cares! he said, throwing his arms in the air.

By that time, my ire had boiled up into my head and I said just because you haven't managed to have kids doesn't mean this is a bad poem. Boy did I piss him off! Not that I cared. He deserved it, old lecherous coot. Poet or not.

So, I throw down the gauntlet. My son will say squirrel. Someday. Life is uncontrollable. He will speak in his own time and will probably say things I don't agree with. Perhaps some teenage girls will someday t.p. our house. And I will think back to the beauty of the white tree and the squirrels that stole small sheets to pillow their nests.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Transitions are sometimes difficult, as from not-knowing to knowing. You would think, given life, that we would be much better at this in-between-becoming business, but it still knocks us for a loop.

And so today the clash of the seasons is upon us. Two days ago it was 65 degrees and we played in the park until 5:30, well past dusk. Today it is thundersnow.

When my son was just a few months old we were awoken at almost point midnight by the loudest thunder crack ever, the bolt simultaneous with the lightening. So loud, so present it rattled my teeth. My son slept through it. Not a peep.

We thought, how could this be? This little being, so present in his needs, and yet so totally absent to the shaking of the world.

Today the thunder started before the snow. He was in his high chair and we were consumed with the delicate balancing act of corn on a large spoon.

He seemed to react to the thunder almost before it shuddered, like some animals do. I have to wonder: what did he think he heard? I quickly made sense of it for him: it was like a big truck. A big truck starting up its engine of snow.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


It's an odd thing to try to describe a phenomenon that happens to many people at once, practically simultaneously. In disease, you have epidemiologists who work to trace outbreaks of illness in order to quell their spread and perhaps predict their occurrence. In politics, you have the ubiquitous pollsters. Then there are the social scientists that try to explain things like how we associate in groups or act as individuals within groups.

Somehow I have a great fascination with how we swim in and out of associative groups without ever knowing we were in them, and at the same time feel great skepticism as to the reach of our scientific understandings about how such things take place.

I think it's because there's some elemental emotional or spiritual element to what impels people to think, speak and act that is not accounted for, perhaps by definition cannot or should not be accounted for.

Take for instance the recent midterm election. No matter how much the media was abuzz before the election about how we said we were going to vote, I had to ignore it. I can too easily be swept into a rapture thinking that the world will be righted, that it is just around the corner. And yet, something did resonate in many individuals at once. (Hallelujah!) At the same time I celebrate this, I must steel myself against thinking that in two years we will do the same. There is something about particular moments in time that synchronize us in thought and feeling with most if not many. Who knows the whims that will grip us then? Why count on that?


On a related note, there was an article in, where else, the NYT the other day about speaking in tongues. Neuroscientists have imaged the brains of people in both devotional activities and then in those trance-like states where they are said to "speak in tongues". The results? It seems that there is a loosening and a deactivation of many different parts of the brain which seem to suggest they are indeed giving themselves up to something. Is it perhaps a learnable sort of neural programming, the way that meditation is?

It makes me also think about the mystical nature of language-- especially foreign language-- and its place in worship. There are many Catholics that rue the disappearance of Latin from the mass. I find myself, despite my liberal leanings, yearning for more and more Hebrew in my religious practice. What is it about another language that opens us up to the devine? Or is it that it activates a different "I", a different speaker, a different self?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Helicopter Mom

My mother arrived five days ago to visit and since then my son has been practically surgically attached to my leg. Not sure whether it's just the cold he has been battling or if he is taking a man-on-man defense in order to assure that the mama does not abdicate to big momma.

Sometimes I wonder whether there will ever be a time when I don't feel like I am a mother to everyone and everything.

Being a mother is such an intense thing-- it's at once the most powerful and powerless position to be in-- responsible for, though not in control of, others' happiness.

When I am exhausted (as I am now) I can almost not believe what I do in a day. It goes well beyond the creative (putting it kindly) meal planning and cooking required for a toddler, well beyond the preparation and the clean up and the staging of every practical transaction. It seems everything holds an emotional weight. Everything is learning (for him and me). There is the sweet predictability and the onerous predictability. There are the sweet moments of discovery and the excrutiatingly slow practice for discovery.

And all the while trying to both serve and stifle the instinct to make everything kind and good and better than it was growing up. In order to give your child the framework for hapiness and let him invent his own content, follow his own kite-strings.

And yet trying to not turn into the mother of all mothers; take too much responsibility everywhere else where it is unwanted, unasked or unnecessary. Like a bird thinking a mailbox is its nest and waiting for those chicks that will never arrive.

As my therapist once said, who do you think you are, Jesa?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Color of Hunger

Two days ago was my son's first real Halloween-- though even that may be hyperbole. At 1 1/2 he did seem amused at being costumed, ran with bated breath every time the doorbell rang and was quizically interested when we took him to two neighbors' houses and they put all sorts of colorful little packages into his pumpkin bag.

Yet, he's 1 1/2. He doesn't know he's getting candy. He doesn't know the kids are all running around out of their minds in anticipation of a massive chocolate-and-sweets binge. I've tried to construct what his perspective might be, and I'm bluffed. What kind of meaning can you string together from these events?


So my son was a pumpkin for Halloween. My reasoning being that this is perhaps the only Halloween when I alone will have a say in what he dresses up as. Given his predeliction for all things automotive and truck related, lord only knows what we have in store for us once he starts talking and asserting his will backed up with the specificities of words.

It's interesting to me that universally it seems that small babies are dressed up as food or food-related items. Let's not forget that the pumpkin is in fact a vegetable. Then you have the babies dressed up like pea pods, carrots with tops, hot peppers. Of all the stinking cute animals in the world as resources for costumes out the wazoo, I beg of you, why dress him up like a vegetable?


Probably the same reason we find little babies so delectable. Did it ever strike you as odd that one of the first ways that many people "play" with babies is to act as though they are eating them? Have you ever felt the twinge or desire yourself to nibble on an opportune little ear or stray toe?

Though it may all have somewhat cannabalistic overtones, I think the truth of it is probably much more honest to come by: feeding is the most essential activity of nurturance for a small being. In a NYT article from Valentine's Day this year there was a fascinating discussion on where the idea and practice of kissing comes from. The most compelling explanation in my eyes:

A few anthropologists have suggested that mouth kissing is a "relic gesture," with evolutionary origins in the mouth-to-mouth feeding that occurred between mother and baby in an age before Gerber and still takes place in a few parts of the world today. It can hardly be a coincidence, they note, that in several languages the word for kissing is synonymous with pre-mastication, or that "sweet" is the epithet most commonly applied to kisses.

So kissing is a kind of feeding and a kind of feasting. Children are the apples of our mouths.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Scatology Today

...could be the name of any recent political reporting. Just goes to show how close things are getting with the midterm elections coming up. Whether it is Rush Limbaugh dissing Michael J. Fox for having Parkinson's (view MJF's response here) or Lynne Cheney going wacko on Wolf Blitzer (was that really a good idea?), it's not hard to follow the excrement back to the animal that... er... made it. Let's just hope that the majority of Americans who bother to vote realize who "dealt" it.

If some of it weren't so hilarious, it could put you into a really foul mood. But apparently, according to a recent study in Britain, those of us who are members of the fairer sex don't need any other excuses to be in foul moods in the morning. I know I don't. I would say it's in my nature, but it's apparently also in my nurture. See what I mean here.

And finally, what would fit Scatology Today better than "the bomb" itself: The Miami Zoo is hosting an exhibition on what birds and bees really do. Want to know how long it would take an elephant to excrete your weight in elephant dung? Find out here.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Sugar Rush

There is a certain unhinged glee that ricocheted forth from me upon reading this most recent Op-Ed piece in the NYT from the linguist George Lakoff about George W. Bush's attempt to call a "do-over" on the phrase "stay the course".

It appeals to the same side of me that laughs hysterically when my husband commits a typo. I find wordplay-- whether accidental or intentional-- deviant-good-fun. I suppose it's the kind of deviant good fun that some people feel about putting up gory displays on Halloween. Me, I'm just in it for the candy.

Speaking of candy, I had a date with myself last night and went to go see Sofia Coppola's new movie "Marie Antoinette". The whole thing felt like being drunk and overdosed on tootsie roll pops at the same time. It's amazing how adept she is at conveying atmospherics. The entire time I watched "Lost in Translation" I felt that kind of dizzy-headiness of jetlag which sets the world atilt. However, after leaving "Marie" I felt a bit ravenous. I had lots of interesting thoughts during the movie, but I'm not quite convinced they came from the movie itself. It probably had more to do with having almost two hours of time to myself and being hopped up on Raisinettes.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What's in a name?

Sorry for the long silence... my sister delivered twins the other day and every spare second that I have not been pelted with broccoli I have been scrounging for more information and kibbitzing with my relatives.

I have also been working on a pet project called sleep-deprivation, as my son has for three nights in a row been waking up every two hours or so and screaming at the top of his lungs. Sometimes the only thing that will calm him is bringing him into the bed with us, but that doesn't do much for my sleep... He seems to think that rhythmic kicking certainly was fun back in the womb, why not try it out again?

I have been having two goofy name-related thoughts rattling around in my head which I wanted to share.

The first is highly inspired by recent events (i.e. the little stinking cuties who arrived this week). Of course in Jewish tradition, you name a baby after a dead relative to honor their memory. The sephardim (Jews from southern Europe and the Middle East) name their kids after a living relative. (Seems much more confusing to me, given that you don't have Jr. and III and the like in Jewish tradition). That means that someone's name could be "Moishe son of Moishe", but I digress.

Anyhow, two fun/interesting name-related thingies:

The Baby Name Wizard actually graphs a name's popularity over time. I spent way too much time graphing names (mine was peak in 1974-- duh) of everyone I know. It makes you wonder why names can fall out of such favor. My grandfather's name is Seymour. I think that is one of the dorkiest names alive. But then if I think about it too long it starts to become really, really cool. Perhaps that is how it happens. It's some sort of coolness dyslexia where everything jumps out of order in front of your eyes.

The second fun with names resource is from a message board called They Named that Poor Kid What??? For those too lazy to follow the link, I will reprint some of the names here, though you really need to see the commentary over there because it is pee-in-your -pants funny.

Galaxie Loucynthia
Trentaysia Zykia Nyann
E'zion-Nicademus Gabriel-I'mari
Miss Jule`
Tiliest Morgan
Meadow Cloyce
Crescin Leander
Jakeup Donald
Oak Daniel Vance
Alebrick Eugene
Wrigley Herndon [girl, on Cubs blanket]
TheiLondaxiya Harmony
Deighton Alee [girl]
Tanzen Chancellor
GaeBriel-Lee Scott
Davida Waynetta [Dad is Michael]
Bryline Hope
Richter Sean
Shyneilya Tynise
Ora Knox
Zoron [Siblings Deborah, Darren, Tyler, Brianna, Zion, Saffiya]
Ken' Swayla

As Juliet asked: "What's in a name?" Would a rose by the name of Chanceity smell as sweet?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Fabuloso! Or, why it pays to read the small print

There are many instances in life where trial and error are the only way to arrive at new knowledge. There are also just as many (if not more) situations where reading labels, keeping your cool, and following instructions can save your life. I submit for your perusal three of the latter situations.

1. Read labels, and don't drink anything blue for God's sakes!
2. Microwaves are not going to kill you. Eating too many chips may.
3. Whooping cough is not endangered. Whooping cranes are. Know the difference.

On Snow

Just resurfacing after a lost weekend. The first snow has come and popcorns the fields with little hints of whiteness. At moments the sky turns over and there comes a dash or two-- an over-attentive cook trying to mask an uneven attempt.

I lost this weekend to at least 36 hours of sleep. I was down with a flu again, but luckily this time on the weekend, and with my mate in town. Looking back on it I can hardly believe that anyone can sleep that long.

My sleep was so long, so vast that it was at once euphoric and menacing. Sweet and deep and somehow crackling and rough at the edges. I left it feeling a kind of remorse. That is strange. I wonder if coma patients feel the same way, as though they have committed or done by their undoing.

I finally climbed out to peek over the edge last night. As any small animal can tell, night time is a perilous time to first come awake. I had a short bout of shouting around, I am told, I said everything is wrong and you NEVER... you ALWAYS (pretty audacious things for a girl just waking up)...

I am puzzled by the effects; it is not the first time that upon awakening I have started a fight (started is perhaps generous-- it is as though the fight has been going on and at once my eyes and lips are open pronouncing it, like my body has transformed into one of those crawling text headlines, the LED displays perched above our heads in cafes and in taxis... always running).

I apologize for my dinosaur-like qualities. I profusely realize that my head is ancient, full of teeth and thoughts that are remainders of threats and defenses past. I hope you can love even my most ancient, flawed drafts.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cleanliness next to...

There was an interesting article in the NYT today about the fact that parents are spending just as much if not more time with their children than they did almost forty years ago. (Now, mind you, forty years ago dad was the sole breadwinner and mom was inevitably home with the tykes-- a far cry from today's more likely scenario where both parents work outside the home). So, where is all this extra time coming from?

Well, for one thing, papas are more involved than they have ever been in child-rearing, toy-organizing, teeth-brushing and to-bed-getting. Oh, and then there's the rest of the housework. Well, they do some of that too.
Fathers have picked up some of the slack. Married fathers are spending more time on housework: an average of 9.7 hours a week in 2000, up from 4.4 hours in 1965. That increase was more than offset by the decline in time devoted to housework by married mothers: 19.4 hours a week in 2000, down from 34.5 hours in 1965.

Still, picking up the slack doesn't a clean house make. Take my house as a tiny example. Last night, with all good intentions, my husband and I laid down in our bed to "rest our eyes" (this usually results in prolonged periods of eye-resting, as one can imagine), which meant that when our little guy woke up this morning at a quarter to eight, the house was still a wreck from the night before, and the first playgroup members would be knocking on our door in less than an hour. Panic? Not I.

I have developed a new cleaning strategy to manage the unruliness in my life: regrouping.

Instead of cleaning up my son's toys, I make interesting groupings of them around the house. The first step on our staircase may be transformed some days into a parking lot for every ilk of truck and tractor. All balls group and await instructions from the mother ship.

It's much easier than trying to hide it all. Perhaps it might even pass as an art installation?

Still, when one of the women in my playgroup arrived with her mom, she said that in the beginning of our playgroup, I had set the domestic bar high: I baked muffins. From scratch.

Now, I did notice that every time someone hosted after that, they also baked. From scratch. I remember thinking (and knowing me, probably saying) that this was a wonderful extravegance that they need not go to.

Yet I, myself, was hell-bent this morning, unshowered, on baking again. Even if my hair were still standing in its morning rendition of the famous Ukiyo-e print of the crashing wave when the first guest arrived.


It begs the question: What do I really have at stake in this domesticity?

The answer didn't come to me until late in the afternoon. I had an appointment with a headhunter who was hired to help the spouses of new professors find career opportunities after relocating.

It was alright, but she was a perky 20-something asking me questions that to her were probably not existential, but to me were very much so. What kind of position was I looking for? What would its title be?

I ended up saying that I didn't really know and talked about how hard it is to think about rejoining the work force after being a mom (AFTER being a mom?). I love the work I do, but I need more stimulation, I said.

She said I can imagine there are a lot of people who after meeting you would think wow- yay- I'd really like to have her on my team!

And then I thought oh my lord get me out of here. Not this team crap again.


On the way out of the office, passing by a bank of decrepit computers where a man with a turban was viewing online temp positions, a wave of relief started to drain through me. I had been holding my breath.

The truth is, the reason I am so invested in domesticity is because for me, it's about people and comfort and connection. My people. My bevy, my tribe.

I bake the muffins, hell, I even scrub the toilet if I have to, because it makes me feel like I am a center of connection. People very directly feel comfort and connection by the things I do.

And there's a certain continuity to it. Just as monkeys and apes enjoy hours and hours of social grooming to maintain their social relationships, I apparently need (and want) to perform certain tasks in order to nurture my relationships.

Given my own nature, that means that I have my own special ways of doing things. And it means that generally, the house is not pre-emptively clean, but rather, is cleaned when it is dirty, or when the piles get high.


The downstairs of my house as I write this is a true disaster. Believe me.

Four children tore through boxes of toys, piles of books, fistfuls of cheerios and the downstairs has taken on truly Vesuvian proportions.

The domestic goddess has returned to her perch far above the fray. She awaits the arrival of the male of her species to build them a bower made from the trucks and crumbs.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Who Do You Think You Are?

In recent days, my inbox has been filled to the gills with returned SPAM. Apparently I have been very busy sending out those obnoxious BUY BUY BUY!!! IT WILL GO THROUGH THE ROOF!!!!!! stock emails. Given the number of Make you girll happy emails I've been receiving, I may be contemplating branching out in the coming weeks.

I also received a very humble response to my latest email marketing campaign from someone in Texas imploring me with no capitalization please stop sending me your emails i am getting very tired of them.

Needless to say, the whole thing is a bit disturbing. Someone trolling around the web looking for a new disguise has found my url and is having a field day with it. I've contacted my internet folks, and there is already an authentication piece in place so that theoretically other servers know it isn't really me.


Assuming Identities

I guess that's one of the "great appeals" of the internet-- and its achilles heel-- is the ability to be anyone, anywhere. To construct a representation of oneself in an almost automated way by filling in blanks and uploading artsy pictures. Then using our representations of ourselves to make "friends" on MySpace and find "partners" on

The temptation is to actually believe that we are who we say we are, and others are who they say they are.

Stress gets put on representation rather than experience.


I live a block away from a 3-year-old suburb of McMansions. I was talking to our real estate agent about that neighborhood, and she told me that the majority of the houses there she's been in have not a stick of furniture in the downstairs.

In some sense, that's understandable-- it takes a boatload of furniture to fill one of those places. In another sense, what? huh?

See, it's all a matter of projection. Here in my house I look real big. The latest jeans make my ass look small. Visit my blog. GET ON BEFOR IT GOS THROUGH THE ROOF!!!!!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Forgive and Forget

Is the motto of the Amish. Members of the Amish community affected by the horrendous shootings of two weeks ago have made a point to mention this again and again. They have already forgiven the perpetrator. They have set up a fund for his wife and children.

This concept of forgiveness is something that for me (and I suspect many others) just doesn't compute. Lip service is one thing. In practicality, how does one actually do it? Especially in the face of an incident so jarring and shocking?

It occurs to me that one of the reasons I have such trouble grasping this concept in practice is because of so many things I have read about human behavior and the architecture of the brain. While it can indeed be psychically advantageous to block out traumatic incidents, it is nearly impossible for them to be erased.

That is, there is a high likelihood that while the specific memory of the incident may itself be displaced or buried, it is likely that the person's behavior and mental state will reflect the trauma caused by the incident.

Indeed it is actually advantageous in many circumstances (or at the very least understandable) that one's behavior would be altered because it is a survival strategy. Our brains react very strongly to imprinting by negative stimuli for a reason: If we see Joe Caveman eat some berries and quickly die in agony, it's a good bet that we'll steer clear of that berry patch, if not all foreign berry patches.

So why do these two concepts of forgiveness and forgetting hang out together so much? And how do they really work together (or not)?

Social Beasts

One answer to at least the Amish portion of our inquiry can be elucidated by a recent NYT article from Daniel Goleman (of Emotional IQ fame). In it, he describes mirror neurons in the brain that are said to be responsible for our feelings of belonging with other human beings and within social frameworks.

In a nutshell, it seems that there are complex networks within our brains that allow us to synch up with one another in both our physical and emotional states. This is at least one explanation of the recent findings that people with established social networks of belonging (religious and otherwise) seem to live longer, healthier lives.

So at least within an Amish framework of not just shared values, beliefs and practices, but also shared physical labor and space, such forgiveness is not performed by the individual, but rather, through the collective. The strong ties that bind the Amish to one another allow them to carry out such herculean feats of forgiveness (not to mention physical labor!) which most people outside of their communities would find next to impossible.

In the same way, they are also able to draw their collective memories away from traumatic events. Indeed, for their society and social ties to remain intact, they must do so as a matter of survival for their way of life and their values.

Forgiveness for the Common Man

The question remains: are those who are not members of tight belief communities like the Amish able to achieve forgiveness? Is it even desireable to do so?

Given my understanding of the way this all works, complete forgiveness and forgetting probably doesn't work outside of such a framework. Nor perhaps should it. While many Amish values may seem to us as ideals or altruistic, it is important to view them in context. Amish communities are very small in scale, and exist within the larger framework of a society that by and large provides a system of justice and law enforcement that enables them to enjoy the ability to maintain their lifestyle and belief system.

Yet the compelling point of all of this is not necessarily how we can also forgive and forget as they do, but rather to look beyond that. It is fascinating to me that our brains are so wired as to require social and communal participation not only in matters of physical survival, but also in matters of emotional transcendence.

How many of us does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Gone to Seed

I've returned home after three days of sitting in a sukkah and the trees all changed while I was gone. The tallest tree around, framed by my backyard windows, has lost its leaves entirely and stands like an ancient mannequin with only the architecture of a hoopskirt between her thighs and the elements.

Lots of things have been whirling around in my head, but I haven't really had time to distill any one of them. At the moment a few links and ideas will have to suffice.

This image is taken from a wonderful and short NYT article about an entymologist who makes wonderful images using a photocopier.

Then there's the sukkot discussion of the art of the yiddish insult "go take a crap in the ocean!" which lead me on a winding path through the internet to find this site which has wonderful resources to insults of many kinds-- historical, foreign language, etc. (Also check out the yid-o-matic English-to-Yiddish translator at The Yiddish Radio Project).

I've ruminated about the ideas of forgiveness and memory, discussed the emotional truths swirling around debate of the death penalty (ballot initiative in Wisconsin to reinstate), and taken an hourlong planeride sitting next to someone that I vaguely knew from high school (which is much more traumatic than it sounds).

Yet right now I must attend to the miniature rubber bus tires I squirreled away in my pocket when my toddler began chewing one like gum during playgroup this morning, as well as cook up some sort of yummy nuggety treat for when the boy awakens from his early fall slumber.

Gone to seed indeed. We're just getting toasty!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Science of Sleep

There's an idiom in German that describes the state of being alone when your partner is away: Strohwitwe-- literally, Straw Widow. I always liked this turn of phrase, though I never knew exactly the image it was meant to conger: A bird sitting on an empty nest? Perhaps a reference to the days when beds were made of straw, and the woman woke with a clenched handful, rather than her partner's warm side?

I find that when my husband is away I stay up late at night putzing around. At first being "up late" is liberating. I alone control the computer. I make myself full meals and sit down at 10:30pm to eat them while leafing through trashy magazines. I sprawl in the bed and toss his pillow into the corner where it mutters quietly to its allergen-inducing self. I revel in the novelty of it all. It is amazing how quickly that novelty wears off.

After a summer of displacement (a month in a sublet, one month in California, two in Germany) all either of us want to do is be in our own house, together. We've even found a babysitter (Hosea!) and actually have money to pay her. All of our attachment parenting and sleep training has paid off, and we have a well-adjusted and well-sleeping young boy.

Yet my husband is in his first year of a tenure-track position (committees, teaching,...) and our lovely new house needs a whole lot of inventive childproofing. Often by the time he comes to bed I'm already in there, having fallen asleep with my NYT Crossword puzzle book on my chest, and am in some form of drooling, snoring, or some other unseemly mid-slumber state.


For almost a week mid-September there was an article about sharing sleep in the NYT that was consistently at the top of their most-emailed list. I found the article itself relatively unremarkable in terms of what it said.

But somehow the subject matter is so intimate and yet so banal that apparently nearly everyone was rapt.

This article is hovering again in my consciousness as I fight sleep with the thousand things I have to do tonight before retiring to my bed. Not just because my husband is away at a conference (see Strohwitwe, above), but because sleep is one of the primary topics of conversation amongst newer mothers.

In recent days I've had multiple conversations with other moms of kids younger than mine about how to convince their children to sleep, as well as the various creative sleeping arrangements that have come about in order to accommodate all the household beings that must sleep in some constellation or another (mom, dad, baby, cat, dog).

At one time or another almost everyone has resorted to someone sleeping with the baby-- in the parents' room, in the parents' bed, in the baby's room. Then there's the tale of the displaced-- of the partner or the animal who becomes jealous or resigned.

It seems that sleeping defines primary intimate relationships for human beings. (I assume it comes from our primate selves, though I can probably elaborate more on this once I read one of the 10,000 books on my nightstand, one of which is titled "Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are").

That's why sleeping is also such a divisive issue. I know that for the first six months after my son was born, our sleep revolved around his sleep. He slept in a bassinet attached to our bed, often migrated into our bed by morning, and by the time we hit six months, I needed him to leave my bedroom. Not because I didn't love the sighs he made or his little scrunched up face when he sleeps. (I still love those things and often have to fight the urge of checking on him at night just to watch him sleep).

I needed him out of our room so that we could have our own sleep again, just my husband and I. There are so many wonderful things that happen in bed- goofy conversations, cuddling, holding the other to help them fall asleep, and, of course, the other things one does in bed, not the least of which is sleep.

Sharing a bed is sharing a life. Wrinkled sheets and all.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bodies in Motion

A fascinating article appears today in the NYT Online which offers explanation to out-of-body experiences as the result of stimulation of certain centers in the brain.

From the article:
These multisensory processing regions also build up perceptions of the body as it moves through the world, Dr. Blanke said. Sensors in the skin provide information about pressure, pain, heat, cold and similar sensations. Sensors in the joints, tendons and bones tell the brain where the body is positioned in space. Sensors in the ears track the sense of balance. And sensors in the internal organs, including the heart, liver and intestines, provide a readout of a person’s emotional state.
There is so much compelling in this even beyond the impact that such knowledge could have on the identification and treatment of mental disorders such as phantom limb and schizophrenia. It seems to me that this sort of sensory input, bundling and processing which goes on in the brain can perhaps offer new insights into the way practices like accupuncture may function; New understanding could also perhaps shed light on the connection between our emotional landscape and our physical state in a far more complicated fashion than has yet been revealed.

It always seemed to me to be absolutely logical, for instance, that someone who was heart broken because of the loss of a loved one could have a heart attack because of it. (I explored this in one of my poems from "back in the day" called "The heart is more organ than we thought").


Department of Venison Security

In an addendum to my previous blog "Deer in the headlights", I was told by a friend today that common wisdom is indeed that one should not swerve when a deer runs in front of the car.

Additionally, you're not supposed to brake unless you have a significant distance between you and the deer. Apparently when your car brakes abruptly, the nose of the car (or whatever the hell you call that, the front I guess) dips down, making it more likely to catapult said deer onto the windshield.

If you don't see the deer before you hit it, however, all bets are off. Just hope that you're not carrying more than 3 ozs. of shampoo in your car when it happens.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Zealots for Bad Causes

On Yom Kippur, Jews read aloud an alphabetic litany of our sins.

My favorite sin this year, as it were, is the last one in the litany: "We are zealots for bad causes"

Let's pause for a moment and appreciate the co-occurrence of the words "favorite" and "sin" in the previous sentence.

What I mean by that, I suppose, is this: Every year we read the same text. Aloud. All together. Whether you've been greedy or not, promiscuous or not, a xenophobe or not, you read the text aloud. What never ceases to amaze me, is that every year the list is new to me. In it I find something that surprises me, that makes me reconsider how I operate in the world.

This year, I am especially a zealot for bad causes.

Actually, that is disingenuous. Of course I think that I'm a zealot for good causes. But when I heard that one, I laughed. My eyes met the eyes of another congregant and we exchanged a knowing grin.

Then I started to think more about it. What is the meaning behind saying this every year? Catching those who are the real zealots for bad causes? Making them do penance on a new reality show? Zealots for Bad Causes this sunday at 9 on UPN.

After savoring the sugary coating of the words, I started to get an ache in my teeth that wouldn't go away. What am I a zealot for? How can the causes and ideas that I hold dear be bad?

I was immediately confronted by an example. Ask and you shall receive.

A woman stood up to talk about the constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage which is on the November ballot in Wisconsin.

It has already been on my "to do" list to get a yard sign urging people to vote against the ban. Good cause.

She talked about the political implications, then drew a breath, and started to talk about how she felt scared. How she, personally, would lose her health care coverage if the ban passes. Whoa. Hold it a minute. We're talking about real people here.

That may sound like a dumbshit response. But it made me realize that of all the causes that I hold dear, behind them are real, individual, people. These things are not just about human rights per se, but are about people. People in particular.

I can construct a sound intellectual argument as well as the next guy. In fact, I relish it. It's something that I do well. And it is also, perhaps, something that I do a little too well. While I fancy that it enables me to reach out to other people, sometimes it does so without considering the very people who I am arguing for.

And boom, there I am, a ZBC. Not that my causes are really bad, but sometimes, like everyone, I need some self-reflection or a generous kick in the rear to reassess not just what positions I maintain, but how and why. I have to keep my connections to these causes real and tangible so that they (and I) do not drift off into the dogmatic ether.

So I invite you to contemplate with me, fellow Zealot for Bad Causes. Get out of your rocking chair and go take a walk. Do the opposite in a situation of what you would normally do. Talk to strangers. They might be you.


For those of you still keeping score, the Book of Life has officially been closed for the 2006-2007 season. We look forward to greeting you next year in our fully-remodeled facility.