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.