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.