Dec 31, 2009

Happy New Year

I always make New Year’s resolutions. I am this kind of person. I love lists. They make me feel organized and hopeful. They give me something to worry about, complete, and then release, and therefore offer, ultimately, the opportunity for relaxation, which is something I’m not always so good at. But of all my New Year’s resolutions this year, the most important one, I think, is to break this habit. To try to relax in the midst of other things. To stop feeling like my life hasn’t really quite begun yet, just because I have no job, and no idea where I'm going to be in another year.

Life as I now know it

Due to a peculiar turn of events, I am now interning for a Weddings magazine and blogging about parenting. When I closed my eyes last night I saw scores of sparkling engagement rings floating around in a mind equivalent of Flash animation. I fear that this will end with me deciding to be childless and unwed forever. Either that or I will be the most knowledgeable unengaged non-parent in the history of time.

Has YOUR wife ever been kidnapped?

Dec 29, 2009

We are all 75% chicken

If the human genome is 98.5% identical to chimpanzees (and 75% identical to that of chickens, and 88% percent identical to that of rodents) is it fair to extrapolate that my experience of life is 99.9% identical to that of, say, a Nigerian cellphone shop owner, or a Brazilian prostitute, or a Cambodian businessman?

Dec 27, 2009

So about Avatar

1. I liked the 3-D glasses.
2. It's sort of (spoiler alert) a wish-fulfillment fantasy for all of us who would have liked things to have turned out differently with the Native Iraqians (a conglomerate people who share qualities/circumstances with both Native Americans and Iraqis).
3. But giving in to the fantasy made me feel a little guilty.
4. Michelle Rodriguez is really hot.
5. I thought it was cool that a blockbuster movie left me thinking about the environment.
6. But if that $500 million had actually been just used to try to improve things, wouldn't it have helped a little more?
7. I dunno. I guess that wasn't the point.
8. Seeing it in 3-D was pretty awesome.
9. I wish I could connect tails with Mirabelle and train a bird-horse to fly me around.
10. I did recycle the 3-D glasses.

Dec 26, 2009

Kids these days

Matt's niece, upon hearing that we found Mirabelle, our dog, online: So you just printed her out off the computer?!

Christmas ennui

It happens to the best of us.

Dec 23, 2009

The WTF Hotel

Almost all the way between Massachusetts and Virginia, everything looked like this:Except for the time we stopped at a giant strip mall to get a coffee, where we saw this sticker, for the Waterfront Hotel, in Fells Point, Baltimore. Really! No joke.

Zeitoun

In preparation for the 12-hour drive we made to Virginia yesterday, Matt and I got a few audio books from the library. One of them was Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers, about a Syrian-American's fairly horrifying experiences in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. That was the one we decided to listen to.

I wasn't sure if it was fiction or nonfiction, but somewhere around the point when the book started involving detailed descriptions of the main character's dreams, I decided it must be fiction. Besides, the way it braids together a commentary about America's response to the September 11th attacks with its response to Hurricane Katrina seemed a little too neat for nonfiction.

I was comforted by this as Matt and I got further and further south and the story got increasingly terrifying. But I just looked it up, and discovered the book is nonfiction. I'm not feeling so good about being an American right now. In fact, I'm feeling a bit terrible about it. But I would definitely recommend the book.

Dec 22, 2009

3-D glasses

AVATAR! (More on this later.)

Circa 1996

My first car was a Mazda from the 1980s, a blue two-door hatchback that my dad passed down to me when he upgraded, which I named Violet. By most measurements she was definitely a bad car. She slid in the snow, she was tiny, and she didn't even have a tape deck, only a radio, so I kept this radio-operated, tan, plastic tape player on the dash. But I've never since then felt as warmly about another car as I did about Violet. Sometimes, I'd be heading to school, driving across the George Washington Bridge, zooming around trucks, smoking a cigarette—many, many cigarettes were smoked in that car—flipping my Mazzy Star tape to the other side, or whatever, and even though it was a pretty dark time in my life, I'd feel, a little bit, like I was flying. Like as long as I had Violet, I could get anywhere and do anything. I guess this is actually how a lot of people feel about their first cars, but I didn't realize this at the time.

Violet had manual transmission, and I taught a few friends how to drive stick shift in her, most memorably my friend Nancy. We went to the parking lot behind my dad's work and jolted forward in little bounds, again and again, until she got it.

A few weeks later the clutch had to be replaced, but I never told my parents why. And then a few months later my mom upgraded cars, I got her old station wagon, and Violet went to some grad student of my dad's, who drove her for the next ten years or something, which always sort of pissed me off, because all that time she could have still been my car, even though my mom's car had four doors, and 4-wheel drive, and a tape deck actually built in to the radio. But the reason I was thinking about all this is that this jolting and then stalling, this moving in fits and then stops, this is exactly how my life feels right now.

Dec 21, 2009

Would you eat this? I would not eat this.

The bright yellow chick Peeps sold around Easter have never disgusted me with their fakeness, so why do Sugar Cookie Peeps strike me as so amazingly repulsive?

Dec 20, 2009

The Christmas branch

Unfairness

I don't remember ever having such strong feelings about the weather as when I woke up this morning, looked outside, and saw that it hadn't snowed.

Dec 19, 2009

My strangeness as a child knew no bounds

Between the ages of five and eight, I went through a religious period. This was a total anomaly in my life. I didn't know anyone who was religious, except for my distant cousins, who were Mormon, and who I only saw once every few years. I'm really not sure how Christ found me, but he did.

My version of Christianity, however, was completely my own, and mostly consisted of rules and assumptions firmly based in a child's superstitious view of the world. For example, red was the color of the devil, so must never be touched (the tree with the red berries outside my parents' deck was a constant threat). Also, I said my prayers every night, and if I didn't, I believed something terrible would happen. And saying them lying down was not enough; in order to avoid the terrible thing, I had to say them kneeling by my bed, my hands appropriately pressed together.

I remember yearning, desperately, to be Joan of Arc or St. Francis of Assisi, and devouring loads of books about them from the children's section of the library. I also remember the awesome shoebox diorama I made of St. Francis surrounded by a bunch of animals. My best friend, the one with the goat, was in on all this too, and when we got together we would practice writing out various hymns from this little book she had, and then when I went home she would give me "homework," which involved writing out more hymns, and which I had to do, obviously, since she was older. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, it's quite possible that my friend was the original source of this whole phase, but either way once the ideas were in my head, I ran with them.

I'm don't remember how all this ended. I guess it probably faded away the way most childhood phases do. But this habit of thinking—that if I do this, then that will happen, or if I don't do this, then that will happen—never has. I now understand it as simply being a way to manage my fears.

Dec 18, 2009

My mother the bird whisperer

My mom is a science teacher, and this bird walked into her classroom yesterday. Really! It's an African blue crane, and it turned out an estate near her school had them on the property (her school is fancy, or at least in a fancy neighborhood). While the caretaker was grooming the bird, it got loose and wandered over to MY MOM'S CLASSROOM. I love that it knew to go to the exact person who is able to recognize numerous bird calls (my mom, the birdwatcher), and who knew to give it sunflower seeds. I also love how this affirms every cliche I've ever heard about "estates."

Dec 17, 2009

Speaking of strange

I also really like this American Psycho/Talking Heads cover by Miles Fisher, for many reasons, not least of which is the humongous cellular phone.
And then there is this video from Bob Dylan's new Christmas album, which I can't decide about. It does look like a pretty good party. I mean, Dylan is there, wearing what appears to be some crazy wig, people are drinking and dancing and one guy is even doing that crouching knee-kicking Russian Cossack dance. There's a fight! And someone swings on a chandelier! But what on earth is going on? What's with the sailor costume? Or Dylan popping up creepily from behind the bar with two bottles of liquor? As for the song itself, I don't generally like Christmas music, so when I say I like this a little better than, say, the version of Jingle Bells you hear at the lot where you buy your Christmas tree, know that isn't saying much. Also, just so you're forewarned, every time I watch it, the chorus stays in my head for two days straight.

Nouveau psychedelia

This video brings things to a whole new level of strange. But I'm sort of fascinated. It's good. I think?


Dec 15, 2009

Death wish

There is this squirrel that spends a lot of time in the tree by my front door. The tree has these little red berries that the squirrel seems to really like, and, probably as a result of eating them so incessantly, the squirrel has become very large. Sort of obese for a squirrel, in fact. These days, when he goes out on the thinner branches they dip in this precarious way.

This is not the squirrel's problem, though. I'm sure his fatness greatly improves his chances of surviving the winter. His problem is that whenever I let Mirabelle outside, even though the squirrel is always safely ensconced in the tree's branches when this happens, he feels the need to jump ten feet down from the tree and make this made dash across the yard to another tree. He does this EVERY TIME. And Mirabelle responds, EVERY TIME, by making a mad dash after him.

Clearly there is something wrong with this squirrel. It is either that, or he once came across a terrifying tree-scaling beast that looked exactly like Mirabelle. What is more likely is that we are dealing with the stupidest squirrel in the history of squirrels, in which case natural selection will probably feel the need to have some sort of intervention. This will, in all likelihood, take the form of Mirabelle. In the meantime, the situation remains a matter of abiding fascination.

(That is not a picture of the actual squirrel, by the way, but the actual squirrel really is that fat.)

Dec 13, 2009

The snow day I wish I had

Today my car skidded in the snow a few times and the final time I went sliding across the street (albeit fairly slowly) I realized it felt pretty good. It was not the potential of crashing that I enjoyed, especially because each time it happened there were few cars in sight, but simply the act of moving without exerting any effort. My satisfaction with this can only be explained by the fact that I have been almost paralyzingly busy these last few weeks. By the way, does the picture above make it look like that pole is actually going through my head? Because that's sort of how being almost paralyzingly busy makes me feel.

Dec 12, 2009

The year of the goat

I grew up in Rockland County, a suburb of New York, with my mom, my dad, and a cat. My dad had a good job that he liked, we lived in a perfectly nice little suburban house, and my mom didn't work until I was about 12. There was something of a 1950s sheen to things.

My best friend, Shannon, lived about a mile away, and her family situation was less generic. Her mom was a potter with a studio behind the house, they had a wood stove for heat, and they kept chickens in a coop in the backyard.

Shannon, who already knew she wanted to be a vet, was always acquiring new animals. There was a flying squirrel with a broken something one year, a cockatiel another. And then there was the goat. At first it lived in a big pen that had been built specially in the backyard. But it turned out to be a very needy goat who would make terrible goat noises whenever Shannon was away from it. Once the neighbors complained, the goat started spending a great deal of time inside the house.

Eventually the neighbors threatened to call some authority or another and Shannon's mom decided that they would have to get rid of the goat, but that meanwhile the goat could never be left alone. That week Shannon and I were supposed to have a play date at my house, but the only way this could happen was if the goat came along. So that afternoon, my mom, with me in the front seat, picked up Shannon, stuffed the goat in the back of her station wagon, and drove all of us the mile between our houses.

While Shannon and I played, the goat hung out on the back porch, making its piteous goat noises. The kitchen window looked out onto the porch, and at one point I remember the goat craning its head in the open window, like some sort of weird apparition in the well-groomed little neighborhood I lived in, looking stubborn, pathetic and presumptuous all at once. I liked that my mom would stuff the goat into the back of her station wagon, and I liked how having the goat at my house broke up the 1950s sheen of things, which already felt a bit oppressive and would become so much more so later on, but I never liked that goat. I think it is probably the reason I have never liked goats since.

Dec 11, 2009

New computer

This is from when Matt had just gotten his new computer, and made me Skype with him from across the kitchen.

Dec 10, 2009

Being at sea

I would love it if my brain could produce a paper printout of my thoughts. Most of it would be hogwash, of course, but the fact is I do my best writing when I'm walking, and it's hard to walk and write at the same time. Hence my ideal writing situation: on the deck of a moving boat.

Dec 9, 2009

Win win

Today I woke up to a polaroid camera with a little bit of film left in it, all of which made the world look purple, and a snowstorm. I think it's the first time Mirabelle has ever seen this much snow.

Lose lose

The fact that it is so much easier for me to quit drinking whenever Matt isn't drinking makes me feel like some sort of girlfriend-bot. On the other hand, drinking in the company of non-drinkers, even more so than drinking alone, makes me feel like a lush.

Dec 8, 2009

You've Got Mail

After reading MeaghanO's charming post about You've Got Mail on filmosophy, I re-watched the movie last night. I've been doing this more, lately, the whole watch-the-same-movie-many-years-later thing, and I think I'm officially into it. Considering a static object (the movie) from two distinct viewpoints (in my case, as a 17-year-old, and as a 30-year-old) gives you such specific insight into how, exactly, your perspective has changed.

For example, when I first watched this movie I considered the main characters Adults and people whose lives, therefore, had nothing to do with mine. Whereas this time around I saw them as my peers and was jealous of their beautiful apartments, their apparent prosperity, and their seemingly endless career opportunities.

The biggest difference, though, was that while to 17-year-old me the romantic logic seemed perfectly sound, this time it rang false—the idea that once you find the person for you, everything, eventually, slides into place, and you don't even fight about what movie to watch on Saturday night, because no one fights about that (if you don't get the reference you'll have to watch the movie).

This kind of thing has become more irritating to me lately, probably because in the last few years I've lost much of my romantic idealism. These days I still think that when you find that person you're meant to be with you fall in love and it is magical, and that maybe life even pauses there for a moment, but eventually it continues with all its regular ups and downs, and in this next phase sometimes it brings you together and sometimes it pulls you apart. And this doesn't make the relationship not worth having. It just makes it real, and the point becomes finding the richness in this. It makes me think of the quote I recently read at my cousin's wedding, from Anne Morrow Lindbergh's A Gift of the Sea:

When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. . . We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity - in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

But movies, and most of our cultural outlets, for that matter, so rarely reference this. I wish they did. Because the distance between the reality of love and the dream of it causes so much of the misery in the first place. Also, as someone more interested in the reality of things, it would simply be nice to have more cultural cliches to turn to for advice.

Dec 7, 2009

Expect the unexpected

Speaking of the Pen 15 club, there is now a pen 15 blog, and this is where I discovered the amazing Attack Attack - Stick Stickly video. I mean, these guys are committed. And if you start out thinking the video is maybe not quite enough on its own, just wait until 2:45, when things take a very unexpected turn.

Lou Dobbs Last Night

In my dream last night Lou Dobbs told me he thought I was pretty. Not sure what to make of this.

Dec 6, 2009

The stuff of lyrical genius

Do you remember back when the fact that dog was god spelled backward was creative fodder? Ditto the fact that homeless people asked for "change"? This featured prominently in a number of my poems back around 1993. But maybe it was just me.

Dec 5, 2009

On marriage

Irritating (at least to the non-engaged): The trailer for Leap Year
Synopsis: If you're 30 and in a 4+year relationship and you're not engaged, you're probably pathetic. However, if you're lucky you'll run into a handsome Welshman. Because you're an idiot, you won't realize until the last minute that obviously your 4+year relationship sucks. Once you do, you and the Welshman will live happily ever after.

Thought-provoking: This New York Times article about marriage.
Synopsis: Actually, you and the Welshman might not live happily ever after because it turns out our collective ideas about marriage ≠ actual marriage. Instead of a blissful partnership, ten years in, you and the Welshman will probably decide (if you're not already divorced) that marriage requires compromise, work, and acceptance, along with (according to the writer of the article, at least) a strong dose of denial. If you're lucky, you'll still basically like each other. Also, don't bother trying to work on things, because marriage is sort of like a seesaw, and making one thing better only makes another thing worse (the better the sex, the worse the bickering, the better the communication, the worse the jealousy, and so on).
Bonus: Some sexy sex tips from seventh century physician Li T'ung-hsuan Tzu.

Inspiring: This speech about gay marriage to the New York Senate.
Synopsis: By the way, if the Welshman was actually a Welshlady, you guys wouldn't even have the privilege of figuring out what marriage is like. At least not in New York. And ensuring this as a legal right should not be a religious issue, because churches can continue to marry (and not marry) whomever they choose. It is simply a matter of discrimination. Also, this lady rocks.

The paranormal (mostly)

Things I believe in, at least a little bit, for no good reason:
ghosts
aliens
psychic abilities
past lives
angels
astrology

There are some things along these lines I do not believe in, though, for equally no reason. Such as vampires, Ouija boards, and soul mates. About witchcraft I remain undecided.

New word

Commucism
com·mu·cism
n.

A system of belief in which a person's racist fears and/or discomfort with the unfamiliar are sublimated into the highly more socially acceptable fear of Communism.

This country is currently being swept by a wave of commucism.

Dec 3, 2009

Demian & Sinclair, Nyack, NY, 1998

After high school I took a year "off." Although I think that expression is pretty silly. I mean, "off" from what? Anyway, for a few months during the winter of that year I lived with my mom and worked at a cafe in the kind of quaint little suburban town that city bikers flock to in droves on the weekends. I had immensely bad judgment at the time, by the way, even for an 18-year-old. I was drinking about 10 shots of espresso a day, rarely sleeping, and dating this kid who wore some of the biggest raver pants in the history of ravers. One time he gave me a ring of hickies on my neck so terrible it looked like I'd been attacked by a flock of vampires. In the back of my car, too, where we occasionally slept the entire night. I did things like this back then. I had to wear a scarf for days. I didn't even really like him, but he was persistent and my level of self-care was at a life low.

The word among the kids in town was that the place I worked was a mafia joint, and it did fit the profile. It rarely made any money, for one thing, yet remained open. Also, the owners were large, silent Italian men who spent almost all their time in a locked office in the basement, except for when they would emerge to throw a huge trash bag filled with God knows what into the dumpster in the back. And then they brought their "cousin" over from Sicily to manage the place. His name was Giovanni, I think, and he was a slight, pale, bossy man to whom I took an immediate dislike.

I spent most of my shifts perfecting my tri-colored espresso drink skills, consuming these drinks, doodling on my order pad (one particularly elaborate one read, "Smile: You know one day they will be sorry," which says a little about my frame of mind), writing alternately gloomy or hilarious notes to my two best friends (depending on where I was in my caffeine/cigarette cycle), or giving eyes to the guy who worked at the gas station across the street. In retrospect he was extremely creepy, but I had a crush on him, and occasionally he would drive me around and get me stoned. He was older. You understand. Apparently I also spent a good deal of time staring morosely into space, because there was this one couple who came in sometimes and always told me I looked just like the girl in that Manet painting, "A Bar at the Folies-Bergere."

Sometimes, if I got really bored, I would also wipe off the counter, and this is what I was doing one particularly slow day when Giovanni or whatever his name was came over to me. "This is good, you are cleaning," he told me. His English was a bit rough. "This is all women good for." And suddenly, without knowing what I was doing, I took my nasty dishrag and flicked it in his face.

The lack of thought that preceded this action was overwhelmed by the great rush of thinking that followed it. Was he going to hit me? Fire me on the spot? Send a hit man to my mother's house? But he did none of these things. Instead, he turned even paler than he already was and then walked stiffly to the bathroom. He was in there for a long time, and when he came out, he never spoke of it, at least not to me.

So many bullets, so little time

This is from the first time I ever went to a shooting range. My friend TaraShea took me when I was visiting her in Seattle. Osama was sold out (not that we necessarily would have got him anyway):But we killed that blue man good.

Dec 2, 2009

The spiritual bath

My friend was in a library in St. Louis when he was accosted by a self-professed psychic (wearing socks under flip-flops, which is already the worst). First, she told him he had never really loved anyone, and then she said he needed to forgive his father, who had in fact recently passed away. And then, of course, she said what he really needed to do was to break down his emotional walls by going to bed with her.

Somewhere in the middle of this they went outside, because my friend wanted to smoke a cigarette, and as he leaned against the wall of the library the lady started rubbing her hand against his stomach. This left him somewhat trapped, at least as he described it, between the wall and the woman. Meanwhile, cops kept walking by and not noticing the looks my friend was giving them, even though he is the kind of guy who generally gets cops' attention (black, tall, leather jacket with a skull on the back, dreadlocks). I think the whole thing sort of threw him, and he's also the kind of guy who doesn't often get thrown. "I mean, I know I could use a fucking spiritual bath," he told me later. "But how do you do that anyway?" I wish I knew.

Dec 1, 2009

Also, re: dogs

My mom took care of Mirabelle for the holidays. For the dog she got these:
And for the cat she got this:
Success!

Re: Dogs taking after their owners

After a walk, my dog always bounds into the house with the same misdirected enthusiasm I bring to checking my email. What is she expecting? What email am I hoping to receive?

Unfathomable experiences

Things my 13-year-old self could not fathom experiencing, and that I therefore assumed I would never experience at all:
falling in love
having sex
caring about my weight

I have experienced all these things, though, which gives me hope about some of the experiences I currently find unfathomable:
getting a job
having children
getting married

Nov 30, 2009

Modern voters

I thought this video of interviews with a bunch of Palin supporters was pretty interesting. Maybe a little unfair? Certainly, I think it probably reflects more of an American problem than a Palin-supporter problem. (For some uninformed Obama supporters go here.)

On the downside, reading the comments for both of those videos is infuriating and depressing. On the upside, they make me want to ensure that I am always able to clearly and correctly enunciate my own political views. It feels a little like discovering we're all subject to a nationwide pop quiz, and that anyone with a camera could spring it on you at any time. But this is good! The whole purpose of pop quizzes is to make you study.

On a completely unrelated note, I thought last week's Modern Love was pretty great.

(Links color-coded for ease of understanding—if you can't tell, Modern Love's is pink.)

Nov 29, 2009

Thanksgiving weekend, Georgia, 2009

A lot of family time was had.
And a lot of football was watched. By the last game I was really into it. I rooted for the University of Georgia, just like I was told to, and they won.
We also visited the cemetery of one of the oldest churches in Georgia, which somehow manages to remain serene even though it is surrounded by an endless amount of suburban sprawl.
Incidentally, here is Matt's great-grandfather's cow pasture.

Nov 28, 2009

Down in the Dirty

Everything is different down here in the South. Even the handicapped parking spot signs.

Nov 27, 2009

Would you be an outlaw for my love

A few years ago I had a boyfriend who managed to singlehandedly shape my current musical tastes. He was a musician, and he knew more about music than I thought was possible to know about anything. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't listen to Big Star, or Roxy Music, or Tom Waits, or T. Rex, or 50 Cent, or the Talking Heads, or Bruce Springsteen. I definitely wouldn't have gone to see Bobby Bland and I never would have watched The Last Waltz, and certainly not with such rapt attention. I always listened so much better when we were together. It was weird, the way that worked, as though his attention had some sort of transferable power.

As you might expect, he made a really good romantic mix tape. I think it's fair to say that the first mix tape he gave me, which I listened to incessantly for a whole summer, played a pivotal role in our getting together. And when we broke up this was actually one of the things I thought about—the prospect of a future without new mix tapes from him.

Eventually, after the misery of the breakup was over, we became friends again and these days he is an important person in my life. One time Matt and I even hung out with him and his then girlfriend, back when he was living in Memphis and we happened to be driving through, which all felt very adult.

In any case, I found his treatise on the death of romantic mix tapes really enjoyable. But it also made me sort of sad. Mostly for all his future girlfriends, and all the romantic mix tapes they'll be missing out on. It seems such a waste of a great talent. Hopefully they'll drive a crappy old cars like mine, though, which still has a tape deck. It doesn't always work so well these days, but I still listen to his tapes.

Nov 26, 2009

Thanksgiving

I like Thanksgiving. I like eating loads of good food at a big table with lots of people, and I like the specifics of the meal too, particularly my mom's stuffing, which I'll be missing this year. Also, I like that it's a whole holiday devoted to gratefulness, because being grateful really does make everything better. But this year, for some reason, there's been this little echo of something else. Maybe because lately I've been so aware of America as such an affluent place, a place so incredibly rich and well run that we all seem to develop this ridiculous expectation that things should always be this way, and that in fact whenever things aren't this way something must be wrong. And yes, I know lots of things here are in fact very badly run, and it is terrible that in such a rich country there are still so many millions of poor people, and yes, we are actually sort of broke. But still, compare America to a lot of other places and it starts to seem like we are one huge anomaly just waiting to burst.

In this context, Thanksgiving feels a little bit weird. All these people piling all these tables with all this food. It starts to feel like instead of being about gratitude it has become about convincing ourselves that we have so much that we could never really go without again. When of course this isn't true at all.

Books I already should have read

I have finally finished reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. It took me forever and I owe the library $3. Now I've moved on to The Good Earth, which I should find less engrossing, but don't. In part, I am engrossed simply by the fact of my engrossment, and keep reading in order to figure out what it is about this meandering story of Chinese peasants that keeps me so fascinated.

Nov 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve

Matt and I are down in Georgia for the holiday and tonight we're staying at his dad's neighbors' house, which is currently empty.

There is a Glenn Beck book on the coffee table, a bible by the front door, a cat, a framed thank you letter from Bush Sr. regarding campaign donations, an assortment of collectible coins and $2 bills hanging on our bedroom wall, a chiming clock, and a thermostat. Each of these things is equally unfamiliar to me.

Bridge to nowhere

Nov 24, 2009

Breakin the law

Useless talents

I had a great deal of aptitude for the skills below, and in my earlier years I also spent a good amount of time perfecting them. But in the current iteration of my life they are all completely useless.

Listed in the order in which they appeared:

1. Climbing trees
2. Friendship bracelet making
3. Shoplifting
4. Dancing to jungle/trance
5. Making tri-colored espresso drinks with Italian syrups

Yes!

In the bathroom of the bar tonight was a sign that said this: "It is better to have loved and lost than to be stuck with someone totally crazy."

Nov 23, 2009

Hooray for the Red Team


Last night I joined the Red Team. This involved donning a skin tight (red) men's wrestling suit at a bake sale/tag sale at a friend's house. Then I made scary faces into a camera, draped in Christmas lights, biting down on a knife. The resulting picture is now supposedly going to show up on the Internet somewhere, although I'm not sure whether or not my name will be attached. This way I can be compared to someone on the Blue Team, who dress up in a blue wrestling suit, obviously, and people can decided which one of us would win in a fight. Actually I wasn't totally clear on the last part. But the point is I never do things like this! And it always feels good to push your boundaries. I was very proud of myself.

P.S. I found the Red Suit website! Check here.

New Moon meditation

So last Friday I went to see New Moon, along with many many teenage girls and Matt. His take on the movie, by the way, is that it is a sort of meditation on the frat boys versus indie rockers dynamics of high school. Meditation used a bit lightly in that context, of course. My take on the movie is up at This Recording, and you can find it here. I'm not sure I've had as much fun writing anything since my friend Nancy and I used to send each other ridiculous packages in high school.

Nov 22, 2009

Alternative realities

I was giving Mirabelle a walk around the neighborhood. It was late at night, and I hadn't bothered to put her on a leash. Usually she's pretty good about staying with me. This time, though, she apparently found something delicious in the middle of the street.

When I heard the car coming and turned, I saw her, framed by headlights that were coming straight at her. "Mirabelle!" I yelled, but she totally ignored me. So then I screamed her name, really screamed it—my throat was hoarse afterward. Mirabelle still paid absolutely no attention to me, but the car slowed down and eventually stopped. Finally, Mirabelle trotted over and the car drove off.

As I put on her leash and walked her home, it was as if my life had peeled into two different realities. In one, I was struggling to carry Mirabelle back to my car, with no idea where on earth the closest 24-hour vet was, not able to think clearly enough to figure it out, either. In the other, the neighborhood was very quiet and Mirabelle was walking beside me, oblivious, as we went home to go to bed.

Oh, college

On Friday we went to see Men at Hampshire, who were pretty amazing. (It's JD from Le Tigre plus two guitarists, one of whom Matt is friends with, which is how we ended up hanging out on a college campus on a Friday night).

Here are some things I remember about the show, other than the show itself, I mean, which really was awesome. The girl dancing wildly with ironic (I think) bangs and a half pony tail that would have made Kelly Bundy proud, all while blowing huge pink bubblegum bubbles. The young queen (princess?) yelling "Out of my way, bitches" while storming by barefoot, carrying his two broken shoes. The girl with the Afrohawk humping the girl wearing just underwear and stockings on her legs, lying on the floor right in front of the stage. I don't remember college being exactly like this, although I do remember those naked parties (don't ask), a lot of ironic trucker hats, and the frightened stripper at the secret society party. Points to Hampshire where all this is concerned, I think.

Nov 21, 2009

Magic carpet

By the way, if I gave anyone the impression that I don't covet anything but humongous sea-going objects (see below), rest assured this is not true. I also covet this rug.

(From Gracious Vigilantes, a collaboration between Gerald Decock and Sam Bassett.)

My grandmother's pantyhose

After helping to clean out my grandmother's house last winter, among the many things I brought home were a number of her stockings. It seemed like a good idea at the time. All my tights seem to sprout runs the moment I put them on and here was an entire drawer full of run-less tights. I left behind the sheer ones, and brought along the rest.

What I didn't realize is that all her stockings are control top, and had been quite stretched out—she was a slightly larger lady than I am. Which means they sort of start to fall down now whenever I wear them. But I wear them anyway! Because, due to one of those odd balancing equations of life, her stockings, of course, as opposed to every other pair I own, never seem to acquire runs.

All of which is to say that basically I've been walking around wearing my grandmother's droopy control top pantyhose and this just really isn't hot. Clearly, things needs to change, asap.

Nov 20, 2009

PEMDAS mothafucka

I watched Interview with a Vampire last night, in preparation for New Moon, and after a variety of very complicated calculations, I have come up with the following equation:

Interview with a Vampire - (interesting social commentary about American in the 1800s + a heavy dose of homoeroticism + awareness of the complexity of human relationships + actual images of blood sucking) + [(teenage pheromones x sparkly dust)/(teenage melodrama x love triangle)] + (sexy werewolves + Mormonism + just some basic strange) x (a man desiring a woman in the way many many human beings really want to be desired) = New Moon

And if you're having trouble with that, I'm sure you at least remember PEMDAS, the acronym for the order of operations. Right? (I've been doing some SAT tutoring.)

My clumsy dog

Today, for the second time, Mirabelle ran head first into a tree while chasing a squirrel. That's weird, right?

Nov 19, 2009

Paging Glenn Beck

Fantasy: That Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, the Founding Fathers and various other great leaders from the past would make an appearance in the present, line up everyone who claims to speak in their name, and then separate the wheat from the chaff once and for all. Thereafter, upon threat of smoting, the ones who are really just spreading ridiculous, erroneous and often hateful ideas would not be allowed within 50 feet of a video camera, recording studio, Internet-enabled computer, or microphone, ever, ever again.

Conspicuous consumption


I don't usually have very expensive taste, which normally I regard as a great blessing. I couldn't afford a $500 purse anyway, so I'm grateful that I don't yearn for one. I guess there was that pair of shoes I really wanted last summer that would have cost about a month's rent, but once I accepted I really wasn't going to find a cheaper pair on ebay, I quickly and fairly painlessly relegated them to the place I also put attractive celebrities - people who are nice to look at but have absolutely nothing to do with my real life. Besides, even if I could have afforded them, I probably wouldn't have bought them anyway, since my personality tends towards miserliness.

Which was why I was surprised to find myself wanting this ridiculous yacht. My mom gave me a subscription to French Vogue last Christmas, which I try to read to keep up my French, even though I mostly only look at the pictures—so many bare breasts in that magazine, by the way. Anyway, I was just minding my own business paging through the November issue when I suddenly saw a picture of this yacht, in a section titled "Envies" or maybe it's "Desires" (my French really is getting rusty). It was right beneath some caviar that goes for about 36,000 Euros per kilo, or about $27,000 per pound, or $1,700 an ounce.

The Infinitas (the yacht) will set you back between $130 and $150 million dollars, but for a moment there I think it is safe to say I was actually coveting it. I really wanted it. I wanted to jump into the little hot tub on top and then walk downstairs over that smooth soft wood and curve myself into the little curved spot at the back. I have never even wanted to ride on a yacht before. I don't even have good associations with yachts. The whole thing was very strange. But this one just looks so sleek and rounded and sort of like maybe it could dive underwater for a little bit, too, if you felt like it.

But whatever. The moment passed pretty quickly. Now it looks sort of cheesy to me, sort of dated, totally 2009. I think sailboats are going to be the thing for 2010. Super fancy sailboats. Like this one, the Maltese Falcon, which is apparently the most expensive sailboat in the world:

If you find yourself in times of trouble, this video will comfort you

Nov 18, 2009

Northampton character #476

He is short and fairly compact, and he seems to have something to do with the rambling antique store around the corner, which is just across from the Sikh-owned liquor store. He always wears black motorcycle boots and black jeans that seem sort of crusted onto his legs. Sometimes he wears a leather vest. He has dark, long straight hair and a Medieval sort of face. And I'm sorry if you don't have particular associations with Medieval sorts of faces, but that's the best way I can think to describe it. His walk is slightly bowlegged.

The lady who works in the antique store, who is most definitely a Northampton character herself, owns two dogs, one of which is small and white and one of which is black and huge. The small one generally sports bright red toenail polish and a pearl necklace, and seems to have a somewhat unpleasant personality. The huge one, who truly is as big as a small horse, sports gnarly wiry hair and seems to be more gentle beast than monster. Sometimes I see this man walking the huge dog around town. We call him (the man) the Dragon Slayer.

Nov 17, 2009

Northampton character #206

As far as I can tell all his jobs are alcohol related. I used to see him working at the Sikh-owned liquor store around the corner, and now I see him working at one of the local dive bars. He is tall and very skinny, with long, curly brown hair, and whenever I see him walking somewhere, he is leaning forward in this very specific way, almost diagonal to the ground, and mostly alone. My friend who grew up here tells me that back when she was in high school, over ten years ago, he was already hanging around town, and that he looked exactly the same.

He frequently wears a leather jacket and he always wears tight, very skinny jeans. He has a sort of punk rock vibe to him. But his most defining characteristic by far is the excess of bandanas always attached to his person. Generally, there are at least three—one around his ankle, one around his neck, and another around his wrist. Sometimes there are many more. We call him Danny Bandana.

Northampton character #802

There's this lady that always walks around Northampton with these little books in a basket, asking everyone if they want to buy a poem. You can't live here for long without coming across her, and once you do she quickly comes to seem a bit like a broken record. I think it's the way she says the whole thing, in a sort of drone, and never looks at you while she's saying it, either. "Wanna buy a poem? Wanna buy a poem?" She doesn't even really wait for an answer.

But one day this guy I used to work with was walking past her, a guy who many of the women in the office found very attractive, and she made an exception. "Wanna have sex?" she asked.

Nov 16, 2009

Birthday weekend


A zydeco concert was attended, soup was eaten, a copious amount of alcohol was consumed, friends were hosted and introduced, music was danced to, movies were watched, dogs were played with, cakes (2!) were eaten, air mattresses (3!) were used and dishes were broken. Our Mr. T party hats were even worn, and we've been wondering what to do with those for a long time. I was very very happy about it all. At one point I was feeling so good I actually had the gall to say this out loud, although I did immediately wonder if that gave me a hex.

It made me wish I could turn 30 next year, all over again, and a few of the older people at the party mentioned that, in fact, many people do.

Self-esteem boost

There's this blog by this French illustrator named Garance Dore that I look at sometimes, and the other day she mentioned this theory she has about people who tend not to like photos of themselves. Which is that they think they are much more attractive than they actually are. I wondered about this, particularly because I can remember many moments when I haven't liked a picture of myself, and I wondered if I this meant I needed to adjust my sense of my own attractiveness accordingly.

But to Ms. Dore's theory I now offer up this absolutely terrible photo of my dog Mirabelle. Personally, I'm going to take this as definitive proof that sometimes a picture just turns out bad, and in fact bears no reflection on how you look in real life.

Armageddon

From Michiko Kakutani's review of Sarah Palin's new book "Going Rogue" in the New York Times:

Mr. McCain’s astonishing decision to pick someone with so little experience . . . underscores just how alarmingly expertise is discounted — or equated with elitism — in our increasingly democratized era.

There is nothing wrong with ordinariness. Most of us are ordinary. In fact, it does qualify you for some things. For example:

Being the prototype for a character on a sitcom
Being described in an essay about your particular niche of American culture

What it does not qualify you for:

Being president.

Unfortunately, Kakutani also mentions that much of the book seems to be positioning Palin for a run in 2012. As in, well, just see below.

Nov 15, 2009

Armageddon porn

There is something slightly perverse about watching the entire world get destroyed and enjoying it so much, both ironically and completely sincerely, that you find yourself pumping your hand in the air and cheering actual cheers in the movie theater. I wondered if the pleasure I took in watching, say, Los Angeles crumble into the Pacific and Yosemite become a ginormous caldera, had something to do with simply needing an outlet for the fatalistic mentality I take on whenever I read anything about the state of our planet, and that I carry around with me these days like a low grade fever. But while the movie 2012 is, obviously, completely ridiculous (John Cusack's character driving through an entire crumbling building? And the ten scenes in which a plane is taking off as the runway crumbles beneath it?) it was also exactly everything I hoped it would be. As far as terrible movies go, I highly recommend it.

Nov 14, 2009

Chalk it up to a lack of Enya

There were a few times in high school when things got pretty deep with my Ouija board. A friend and I would light candles, put on some Enya, and sit there with our fingers just lightly touching that little pie slice of a thing (planchette is the official name) for however long it took to start moving. Once it did, it seemed to have a lot to say. I was going to marry some guy I had a crush on and have 15 babies, or something like that, and yes, there were definitely spirits living in my parents' house.

One time things took a bad turn, though. While my friend was in the bathroom I asked it a few questions on my own, which you're really not supposed to do, and then when she came back it told us to kill some perfectly nice boy in my math class. The mood got dark and sinister after that. I became convinced we really were channeling an evil spirit, and that probably it was going to try to sneak into my body while I was sleeping and inhabit it, like what happened to that little girl in the Exorcist. That was it for me and my Ouija board. The next day I packed it up and stuck it in the garage, where it sat until about a year ago, when my mom, in a spate of cleaning, sent the Ouija board to the Goodwill.

More recently, I was at a party where a Ouija board happened to be laid out on a table, and I tried to play it for a little bit with Kevin. We couldn't seem to conjure up the necessarily somber and suggestible mood, though, and the planchette didn't move at all. Actually that's not entirely true. There was a brief moment when the board started freestyling, but I didn't find this entirely believable—its rhyming style was suspiciously similar to Kevin's.

Nov 13, 2009

Pivotal moments

1. The first time a person you did illegal things with in high school becomes a cop. This happened in my life a few years ago.

2. The first time an ex-boyfriend gets engaged. It has to have been an actual boyfriend too, someone whose family you met, for example, and not someone you just made out with once or twice. This happened in my life recently.

Nov 12, 2009

Other things that routinely make me cry

Most any example of someone holding on to their humanity in inhuman circumstances. Books about what happened to the Native Americans after the Europeans arrived. And those videos where 50 people answer the same question. I should mention that crying easily runs in my family. If you think I'm bad you should have known my grandmother.

Fifty People, One Question: Brooklyn from Fifty People, One Question on Vimeo.

The angry manifestation

Check out this note that my friend Nancy posted on her blog. Someone left it at her father's head shop back in the '60s. It's enough to put anyone off their idealization of that era. It's also amazing. I mean, IS it possible to create an electric Tibet? And CAN anyone really believe that an electricity company sends out good vibrations?

Nov 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

When I was a little kid, at some point I got the impression that every American had to serve in the military once they reached a certain age. I remember lying in bed that night, very worried. I knew that I was not cut out for combat. When it rained I spent recess plucking worms off the cement and sticking them back in the grass so other kids wouldn't smash them. Finally my mom explained that American military service was not mandatory (this was the mid 1980s). I was hugely relieved.

These days, I have a dependably predictable response to pretty much anything relating to the military—I start crying. Parades, movies, articles, that picture of that little girl holding on to her dad's hand before getting deployed, it all makes me cry. Sometimes those military ads on TV even make me cry, at the gym, while running on the treadmill, which gets awkward.

It's more an excess of feeling than anything else but beyond that it's sort of hard to place. I've had a few friends who've been in the military, but not many. It's something about sacrifice, I guess, and the inevitability of pain, and experiences human beings shouldn't have but do have. I dunno. Sometimes I'm told I have too high a regard for people. That I think we're all better than we are. And I understand that war can be a very damaging and unjust force (although I think it is sometimes a necessary one) and that it ruins innocent lives. Maybe I'm just being overly sentimental. Whatever it is, I have an old-fashioned kind of respect for military service. And on that note, happy Veteran's Day.

The leaves are mostly gone now

Which just leaves this to look forward to:

Nov 10, 2009

Home sweet home

The luxurious lives of children

There are many experiences I had often as a child that today feel like luxuries. Take, for example:

Baths (we only have a shower).
Riding in the back seat during long rides.
Having someone else pay for dinner.

Obviously they don't make that much of a difference, though. As a teenager I still experienced these things at least somewhat regularly, but I don't think there's any offer in the world that could tempt me to return to my life at 16.

Cruelty to trees

Nov 9, 2009

The end of the line

I ran, shoes untied, to the gate. It was ten minutes to takeoff. "What's your last name?" the Delta employee shouted when he saw me coming. I ran faster.

"Langmuir," I shouted.

"Where's your companion?" he asked.

"He's coming," I yelled.

Right as I arrived at the gate the man stepped out onto the breezeway and when he returned a moment later he shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry," he said, not sounding sorry at all. I was still trying to catch my breath. He actually looked sort of pleased with himself. "Looks like you're too late. We just closed the door."

At first I accepted this. Anyone who has grown up in such a perennially late family as my own has learned about the terrible finality of closed airplane doors. But then I started thinking—isn't that the whole point with doors, that once they're closed you can open them back up again?

The red-eye

I woke up to an elderly woman lying in the aisle of plane, right next to me. Her husband stood above her, peering down, his hands resting against the seats on both sides of the aisle. He had a doughy face and bright eyes, and he wore a blue University of Michigan baseball cap. We were headed to Detroit.

One of the flight attendants yelled out to ask if there was a doctor on board and a paramedic came forward. He knelt by the woman and gave her oxygen, took her blood pressure and asked her name. It was Dotty, she said. The paramedic kept calling her sweetheart, and I couldn't tell if this was sweet or strange.

The woman was 89 and the prospect of death—of her dying, right there—gave everything an immediate sharpness and urgency. Rerouting the plane to Minneapolis was discussed. Meanwhile, flight attendants hustled back and forth and various people huddled around the woman, looking down at her.

I have seen this before, the way human beings rally together to try to keep another person alive. It always leaves a strong impression, how a group of strangers can all immediately agree that keeping another stranger living on this earth has suddenly become the most important thing in the world. That we do this says something good and significant about human beings, I think. At the same time, it always leaves me feeling a bit perplexed. Life is so often brutal and painful and sad, and the way we grasp to it is sometimes hard for me to understand. Besides, for whatever reason, I think of death as being more like a door opening to something else than like an ending.

The plane wasn't diverted, though, and by the time we arrived in Detroit at 5 in the morning the woman seemed to be feeling better. It turned out the problem probably came down to the swig of prescription cough syrup she'd taken when she got on the plane. "She took a big sip," her husband told the paramedic.

He replied that this really isn't how you're supposed to do it. "Just measure out one teaspoon," the paramedic said, "next time."

Nov 7, 2009

Making time fly while flying

1. Trade off giving each other a hard time.
2. Let this devolve into bickering. Treat it as a lengthy, ever evolving, extremely fun game.
3. Discuss nearby people/surroundings/circumstances conspiratorially.
4. Pass notes about the man in front of you who yelled at the nice stewardess about wanting two cokes instead of one ("I have been on this plane for TWO hours, so you are going to give me TWO cokes"). Don't risk talking out loud about it, even though you don't think he can hear you, because he has a bit of the Unabomber about him.
5. Read.
6. Sleep.
7. Share a box of Travel Delights ($5 on Delta).
8. Watch as San Francisco gradually come into focus beneath you.

The fallopian tube of a layover

Is this paradise? No, it's Detroit.

Nov 6, 2009

Music's effects on my mood

Halfway through my run I stopped to stretch under a big tree. I was listening to my ipod on shuffle and after a few minutes I heard the opening chords of that Yo La Tengo song "Our Way to Fall" ("We're on our way, we're on our way to fall in love. . ."). I stopped stretching and lay back on the leaves. I looked up at the tree's mostly bare branches and thought uncharacteristically peaceful thoughts about the world and my place in it.

Next up was Jay-Z's song "99 Problems" ("If you're having girl problems I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one. . ."). I briefly wondered how Beyonce felt about that. Then I stopped stretching and started running again.

Nov 5, 2009

Taxidermia

We had talked about the expedition for weeks. Months even. We knew that if we biked down the path long enough we would eventually reach some vineyards that would let us sample wine. But we never bothered to figure out various details, like how far away the vineyards actually were.

Finally, one Saturday we drove out of town to the start of the path. We biked for many miles and then we rested, and then we biked for many, many more miles. We drank all the whiskey. We were beginning to be hungry. It was starting to get dark. So we stopped at a bar we could see from the bike path.

We ordered burgers, I think, and ate them on picnic tables outside. It began to dawn on us that biking back could be problematic, since the path went through the woods and would be very dark.

Meanwhile a large motorcycle crew had stopped at the bar. After they heard about our dilemma one of the bikers offered to ride one of us back to our car. But he had clearly had a lot to drink and besides, I didn't really like that he could only take one of us. Even though this wasn't some weird move on his part—his motorcycle obviously only had room for one extra rider. Maybe I'm a little biased against that kind of motorcycle rider, though. He made me think of the Hell's Angels and the book about them by Hunter S. Thompson, which totally freaked me out (the book, I mean). So instead we called our friend to come pick us up.

All around the bar, by the way, dangling from the ceiling in glass cases, were groups of taxidermied squirrels engaged in various activities. Here, for example, is the squirrel country band:
Except that it was upside down, so it looked more like this:
St. Louis and its outskirts never ceased to surprise me. I miss that a lot, particularly now that I live in a place that almost never surprises me at all.