Sunday, November 30, 2008

Comment: Time Keeps on Slippin'

I’d just like to give an ode, a shout-out, a huzzah, if you will, to sunshine, and give thanks that November is nearly over, thank you very much. It is truly the most difficult month for me (and many others, I’d wager) and now we are on the eve of December and the general goodwill that it engenders in so many people for at least a few weeks.

I always loved Christmas as a child, because I got presents, vacation, and family time with my grandparents. It was all good. Although I was an extraordinarily anxious child, I still knew how to have fun. As a child, I would play with the ornaments on our Christmas tree. I would take the ornaments off their branches and have them interact. My sister would often join me in this. When we were done playing for the day, we’d return them all to their original dangling spots.

We had different animals, birds that clipped on, hanging angels, long, shiny, fragile orbs and balls. They all had names. They all had personalities. Having a Christmas tree was like having a mega dollhouse full of toys at your disposal for the entire season. It rocked.

I remember some of the characters; we had the Mayor of the Tree, George, a stately white felt and feathered bird operated by my stately and demure sister. I voiced the loud, gossipy, bossy Martha, the red bird who got into everyone on the tree’s business. (Our partial American heritage was clearly in effect with our name choices for these characters.)

We had Lowly the Worm, who might have been a Snail, but we’re not sure. He was named after the Richard Scarry character of the same name. He spoke slowly and was kind of shy. And there was some kind of mouse in a boot. I wish I could remember more. He didn’t get out much.

But my all time favorite ornament was Shirley, the Angel Receptionist, whose unbreakability guaranteed her a place at the bottom of the tree, where she could greet any visitor (including a dog’s treacherous, wagging tail) who flew up into the branches to visit. She was housed in a white felt bell. There used to be two Shirleys, one on each opening of the bell, but one of them probably got eaten by a dog or something so that left Lone Shirley. She knew more about Tree Town than even Martha the nosey Mayor’s wife, because she was truly the eyes, ears and wings of the tree. She always knew what was going on. Guess who voiced her.

What’s funny about it is that as adults, my sister and I have gotten into the habit of giving each other Shirley-type ornaments at Christmas. She sent me an incredible angel last year that was both tacky and ethereal, if that’s possible. She hangs in my closet. (The angel ornament, not my sister. She hangs in upstate New York, yo.) She is too fabulous to only be up for three weeks of the year. My daughter is desperate to touch her, but nobody touches the Shirleys, not these ones.

Besides, my kids are making their own stories with their own family Christmas ornaments and we haven’t even put up the tree yet. My daughter takes the angels we have collected so far that are fairly hardy and flies them all over the house. They have conversations, relationships; they sing. My son is into it as well. He prefers to hoard the ornaments and carry them around in his stocking. I can see that my family tradition of tree-storytelling is going to continue.

Another memory, we used to have the Nativity scene figures, only in Canada we called them the Crèche, (which funnily enough is the name for some form of child care in England) and I played with those characters as well. Mary and Joseph were sturdy plastic figures, but Baby Jesus was ceramic and had been broken and repaired numerous times. He was my favorite. Bear in mind that my family is/was not religious. They are about as secular humanist as they come. I would take a yardstick and place it between two chairs and have Jesus in his hay-bed be pushed slowly across, as if over a large chasm or body of water (the carpet). So I still somehow had the idea that Jesus was delicate yet hardy, and very interesting.

It took two kids and many years for me to convince my husband that we had to have a real tree, not a lead-infused piece of crap artificial one. We grew up with Scotch Pines and various other spruces with a real life arborist for a Grandfather, so nothing but real will do, especially now that we have kids with so many stories to tell. They need the true pine smell to make their stories authentic. And that they will.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Twilight: A Grown-Up’s Review

I’m only pointing out my age because I know the movie was not aimed at my demographic, but I went anyway. And I know I am not the only one who did so. I attended last night’s showing of “Twilight” at a half-full mega-theatre that did not contain, as I had expected, throngs of screaming teenagers. In fact, nobody screamed at all, even when Hottie McHotsie Edward walked onscreen. That’s the recession for you.

My companion (who had seen it before, on the opening weekend, along with many, many screaming girls) and I were as into it as anyone in the theatre.

In short, the movie held up quite well to the book. It managed all of the major plot points. The high point to me was the casting. Every character was in some sense as I expected them to be, which is so rare when translating book to film. The one exception was, as my friend pointed out, that Forks, the fictitious town Bella, the protagonist, moves to (and where her vampire adventures begin) would probably be a lot less interesting and diverse than it was in the film. The kids were all so hip and good-looking and self-assured.

But of course I haven’t been hanging out with teens since my days teaching, which is over 5 years ago, so I wouldn’t know; maybe teenagers today are way more hipo and good-looking and self-assured. I wouldn't know.

The casting of Bella was excellent, because although she is a slender and good-looking actual teenager, she isn’t so drop-dead gorgeous that she looks like a super model. I’ve seen photos of her at premieres and she cleans up real nice, and way swankier, but they were wise to tone it down for the movie. Bella is supposed to be relatively ordinary, at least to the casual observer.

And Edward managed to be both gorgeous and scary. This is not an easy feat. The fact that Robert Pattinson, the actor who plays Edward, had only been seen on the big screen briefly in the Harry Potter franchise as Cedric Diggory made it easy to feel he was a fresh face. It wasn’t like, “Oh look, there’s Daniel Radlciffe/Harry Potter pretending to Edward.” That would never have worked, in spite of Radcliffe’s chops and washboard abs he displayed to much delight in his stage work on “Equus.”

The one thing the movie did not quite grab was actually the most appealing part of the book: the low-level erotic tension that pervades every encounter between Bella and Edward. They certainly had sexual chemistry in the movie; my friend commented that “you could fry an egg” on the one scene where they kiss. And Stephanie Meyer, the author of the series of four vampire books, is a master at understatement and high goth romance. It’s innocent on the surface, but underneath it’s going at a slow burn.

It’s all in the longing. And there’s a lot of longing in the book, which just doesn’t translate to the screen. Unless Bella was doing a LOT more voiceovers, (which I didn’t care for, but I see as necessary) we wouldn’t be able to get into the hardcore pining she does in the book(s). And this yearning combined with the brief encounters and downright electric contact that they have in the book was so much diminished on screen.

But that’s the problem with film; it’s visual, and is no competition for the fabulous fantasies we can create in our own heads. They did have great chemistry, and there was passion. But when I read the book, it seemed like there was more physical contact (but not much) and a lot more of that bubbly tension.

So that is my only complaint in an otherwise faithful and marvelously cast film. And I just finished the fourth and final book the other day, and I’m feeling a bit wistful. It’s fun to find somewhere to throw yourself and your imagination for a time, especially when it’s so different from your everyday life. I don’t want to go and read her book “for grown-ups” because I’m afraid I’ll just compare it to “Twilight.” Maybe when I grow out of this phase, I’ll give it a look, but for now I’m enjoying a renewed adolescence instead.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Comment: It's a cruel, cruel summer.

How cruel can summer be, with its sunshine and long days? I’m sorry, Bananarama, but the fall is far crueler, and the impending winter worst of all.

S.A.D., anyone?

I’m using my lights for the winter blues, and today my husband commented that everyone in the family might need them. We're all so fussy and irritable. And we don’t even in live in Seattle or Vancouver. I don’t know how well I’d do there and I don’t think I want to find out, although, truth be told, Vancouver is my dream destination for life and the pursuit of happiness, B.C.-style. But the rain would be really hard to take.

When the darkness seeps into your psyche from the outside, you know your days are going to pretty much suck no matter what you do. And it’s utterly predictable. Every November I feel like a sack of crap and every November I forget this, and am shocked and dismayed when my mood plummets like a bag of wet dirt right after Halloween.

So I am trying like hell to be pragmatic about it, and just keep plowing through the cold- molasses-in-January that is depression. What else can I do?

I just finished reading Tracy Thompson’s book about depression and motherhood. It sounds depressing, (natch) but it actually isn’t. She talks about how fighting an illness like depression can make you a stronger and better mother. Not that I recommend depression to you—kids, don’t try this at home! But she puts a (relatively) positive spin on it and she knows of what she speaks. Apparently she wrote a memoir about her depression struggles, the aptly-titled “The Beast.” I am interested in reading it, but it’s probably depressing.


So what are some fun things to do and read that are upbeat? I mean, the whole, “fake it til you make it?” I have my Pandora radio station set on Madonna, not The Cure. That helps. It’s hard to be depressed when Kylie Minogue can’t get you out of her head. Did you ever see that video? That woman is smokin’ hot and how does that outfit stay on her body? Plus she’s about my age and she rocks. Apparently she is highly coveted in the other hemisphere, more so than J-Lo was in her booty-lishous heyday.

Anyway, listening to upbeat music, eating chocolate, exercising, doing something creative, all seem to help.

Now Janet Jackson’s “Escapade” is on. What’s not cheerful about that? “Come on baby, let’s get away…let me take you on an escapade!”

Tonight I'm going to see "Twilight" with my dear friend who understands me and my foibles and I will be sure to let you know how it stacks up to the book.

PS- In case you were keeping track, I’ve used the annoying word, “natch”, for three postings in a row. You win my devotion and respect for having read this far, even if you didn't notice the repetitive use of stupid slang.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Comment: The Jekyll and Hyde Neighborhood

We used to live in an idyllic neighborhood. But for the past 11 months, we have not. It’s not terrible, but it’s not ideal.

On the surface it looks fine, but if you scratch it just a little bit, you see about every fifth house looking like a crack den, or at least an abandoned one. Lawns are brown, big, rotting boxes fill up people's porches. The gang tagging is just around the corner on one of the busy streets; on our first day in the neighborhood park, I was told by a long-time resident that the local gang “usually hangs out here at this picnic table, but hasn’t been here lately, what with the rain and all.” Did I mention it rained for the first six weeks after we moved here, every day?

Anyway, the picnic table has subsequently been removed in an effort at neighborhood improvement. But the park continues to have obscene graffiti and trash strewn in the sand box, so we tend to take our playtime elsewhere.

I’m sorry, but shopping carts abandoned on your lawn are not the new garden gnomes. Martha Stewart doesn’t have tagging on the side of her van, and she doesn’t have Carl’s Jr. wrappers in her flowerbeds.


We don’t live in the ghetto, but we don’t live in the nice part of town, either. We managed to find the exact place where rent was affordable but if you crossed ONE street, you were in another landscape entirely. This is the neighborhood my son’s school is in. It’s lovely. So we live on the wrong side of the street.

On the “right” side, the lawns are landscaped, large oak trees frame the streets of well-kept houses, and people look up from their yard work when you pass them and smile at you.

Our hood? Not so much.

I’m not saying we don’t have nice neighbors—we do, but we only know two of them, and we live on an almost-de-sac that would encourage all neighbors to be friendly. I don’t know any of the people who live across the street from me on any side, and when we first moved in, I made the social mistake of introducing myself to the man who keeps his garage open all day long with the lights on. He probably thought I was a sociopath, but I was just following protocol from our previous hood back in SoCal, where people came over with presents to welcome you to the neighborhood.

Our neighborhood was soooo friendly (how friendly was it?) our neighbors gave us wine for Christmas, babysat for us, and came over to tell us when my daughter had unknowingly popped the trunk of our car which was sitting in the driveway. At Halloween, people bused (and vanned) in to our neighborhood because everyone was so friendly and the loot was so awesome.

When my kids and I took a walk around the block, it took 45 minutes, because we were stopped by new friends and their nice pets every five feet. It was a glorious place to live. We lived there a year, then we moved away, to a place chillier in both physical and psychological climate, and here we are. I’d tell you where but then I’d have to kill you.

So that’s where we’re at. There’s the Hyde neighborhood we long for, and the Jekyll neighborhood we live in. At least we have a place to live. In these hard times, we need to count our blessings.

Even if they’re tagged up a bit.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Question: Am I a bad parent because I don’t videotape my children’s every move?

I’m just wondering, because this morning at my son’s Kindergarten Thanksgiving Show (three songs, utterly adorable) my husband and I were among the very few who were not either snapping pictures with high tech cameras (or at least their cellphones) or shooting Scorcese-style concert documentary footage with their swank-ass cameras. It just kind of gave me pause.

It didn’t even occur to me or my husband to bring any form of recording device to this even this morning. We just wanted to be there for our son, and we were. His sister came, too. It was great.

But on the way out of the Multi-Use Room, (which I had to ask my son to help me find, natch) one of the moms of one of my son’s friends came up to me and said, “I had such a great angle with your son (who was next to her daughter) and I could give you a copy of it, if you want.” It was extremely nice, but it also made me feel like LoserMom for not answering, “Oh thanks, that’s great, but I got some good footage myself.”

Then ANOTHER Mom I know (who is a nice friend of ours) told me she had some great pictures of my son and would email them to me, who of course, hadn’t taken any. (She didn't say that, though. It was patently obvious on my camera-less self.)

If I were utterly paranoid, I’d say they were sticking it to me. But I know better. They were both just trying to be nice, and nice they were. Simple.

But it left me with a residual feeling of inadequacy—what was wrong with us as parents that we hadn’t brought along some form of recording device for posterity? Didn’t we love our children enough to preserve their memories for them?

The answer is, of course, we suck.

Just kidding.

The answer is, we were too busy living the event to bother recording it.

It’s fine if other people want to record everything, but it strikes me as slightly Reality TV-ish to be filming so much of your actual life. I mean, if you film it, are you truly experiencing it? It’s kind of a way to stay detached from the event. Then, at home, when you watch it over and over, you’re still detached from it because it’s over. And you were there, but you weren’t really there.

So thanks, but no thanks, I’ll keep my cameras for occasional use, but not every time someone in my family opens their mouth. I’d rather just be there to watch and enjoy it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Comment: Back to Basics

I remember reading some Ariel Gore in one of her awesome Hip Mama books where she essentially says, “If it’s all you can do some days to just get up out of bed, just get out of bed.” (it may have been a couch, but her key point remains the same.)

Some days are not built for SuperMomhood. Some days you just need to keep the kids fed and safe and that’s about all you can do.

Today is one of those days. I didn’t make any thanksgiving crafts today with the kids, and we didn’t give to the needy, and we didn’t discuss spirituality or manners or what we are thankful for (answer: a LOT.) They didn’t eat their damn “rainbow” but we hit a few of the colors. They are happy, fed, safe and nestled in front of innocuous Disney fare (it is not an oxymoron, believe it or not).

Today the kids did clean up their messes, get read to, and listened to, along with their other Maslovian needs.

And if I do my own personal behavior inventory, I think I get bonus points for not being irritable, grouchy or losing my patience.

But it isn’t about points. That’s what companies selling you your inadequacies are trying to foist on you, but parenting is really not about keeping score. Just look at your kids. How are they doing? My daughter still refuses to wear pants, but she’s just in the privacy of her home in her shirt and underwear so what’s the diff? I wouldn’t take her out anywhere without something south of her shirt, but she usually wears dresses anyway and under duress will wear some lame form of leggings. (I am seriously considering getting her leg warmers. The 80s were good for something besides The Cure.)

What it’s about is getting by day in and day out of the marathon that is parenting. Any style or panache is just gravy. And frankly, I don’t always like gravy. Sure, sometimes it’s good, but after awhile it’s a little much. If we throw some of our precious energy into ourselves as well as our kids, that might actually be a good thing for everyone.

So today was a back to basics day. Themed cupcakes were neither made nor decorated. But by the end of the day, we are all in one piece and smiling.

And sometimes that is enough.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Comment: Slow the F Down

For awhile I was getting off on my efficiency. I was doing it all: the kids were enriched and well fed, I was fighting fit, I wrote everyday, cooked three meals a day and my house was absolutely perfect before I went to bed at night. 24/7, baby. No pauses.

After doing this regime for the past ten months or so, I’ve kind of had it. Or so my body tells me. Apparently you can’t keep going at such a killer pace and not have repercussions.

Every day, it seems I was constantly under the impression that I should be doing something, and it was usually something I wasn’t doing, but something I was going to be doing. Not only was I not living in the moment, I didn’t ever live in the moment, as I was always craning my neck to see what was next, what danger (real or perceived) was coming down the pike. OCD also adds to that neck-craning, because that whole disorder is about anticipating and regretting and truckloads of free-floating fear and anxiety.

Not very Zen.

Anyway, since our family relocated to a new part of the country, it has been non-stop, especially for the grown-ups. Kids adjust better to change than we do. Once we landed here, I somehow turned my amp up to 20 and never stopped to think how that might affect me down the line. It’s hard enough work raising kids without having to start over again in a new place. You don’t know anyone, and nobody cares that you don’t know them. So it’s all on you. It takes so much damn energy to put on a happy face, show your best side and be on your perkiest behavior as you go trawling for friends, community, a life worth living in a new place with no support.

Hell, in Southern California, to contrast things a bit, I had a bi-monthly housekeeper AND a babysitter. Here? Not so much. And we moved up here for a promotion. How’s that for logic? Anyway, even if I did have external help, I sure as shootin’ wouldn’t continue to have it now. Like everyone else, we’re on tight budget. So I’m a one woman show.

I’m not complaining, though. I’m just realizing that by trying to do everything myself, I’ve gotten myself a mite bit exhausted. Drained. Because I just kept kicking up the effort to do all the things I’ve just mentioned. Faster, Pussycat! And now that the seasons are changing and fall/winter depression is lurking in the bushes, it’s even harder to stay upbeat. Because I’m beat.

And no wonder.

This whole year, every workout, I would do a little more, run longer, push harder, do more cardio punching and kicking. Every night I was trying to fit in my writing and other projects, plus significant house maintenance that left me wiped out. I could tell that I was getting burnt out because I found myself getting more and more pissed off at things that don’t usually upset me.

I found myself cleaning up for EVERYONE, totally over-functioning, and this was not good for anyone. It resulted in a cranky me, which radiated into a touchy and irritable pair of kids and an overwhelmed spouse who had to walk on eggshells to keep from setting me off.

I forgot to mention that for the past month I’ve been on a (for me) restrictive diet, depriving myself of my favorite foods (or just feeling really guilty when I do eat them; ahh, the shame spiral) and getting more and more pissed off about it. Bitch, anyone?

These are all things I’ve only just started to figure out. It may seem like a big duh, but I have nobody really monitoring my (hyper)activity level, nobody to say, “Hey, kid, you don’t need to scrub the tub RIGHT NOW; the dishes will wait, go watch a movie.” The idea of going out to just sit in a dark theatre watching a movie seems so unbelievably decadent (and exotic) to me. What, and not bring along some laundry to fold or school papers to file? Perhaps I should try it. It sounds kind of fun. (What is this thing you call, "fun ?" I am interested and would like to learn more.)

Nowadays we are all used to doing many things at once. With all of our little electronic objects (crack) to keep us on multiple tasks, we are rarely allowing ourselves to stop and smell the roses. We don’t even stop, so who has time for flowers?

So perhaps getting sick and landing on my metaphorical ass is going to teach me something about the relentless pace I was trying to maintain. In other words, cut that shit out. Take some time to play. I really need to take a lesson from my kids. I’m so tuned in to knowing when they need a break, but what about me? Perhaps I need to factor myself back into the equation and not do at 90 mph. Cos I think I just got a speeding ticket.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Comment: Fresh Starts

I can’t imagine what it’s like to live in one place for your entire life. The idea, honestly, terrifies me. I have gone through so many personality phases/iterations that I can’t imagine the 41 year old me having to deal with the sins of the 20 year old, or the angst of the 15 year old. All that memory-making in one place? No thanks.

But I do envy it sometimes. We move around a fair bit, but not as much as military families, who really have to learn to adapt anew over and over. What I envy in those who stay rooted in one place is the deep social networking, the clear knowledge of surface streets, short cuts, good places for sweet Italian sausage, a tried and true hair stylist you actually get to know, and neighbors whose names you are at least familiar with. You just don’t get that when you move a lot.

But you do get the chance to start over. Which can be fun. But also habit-forming. I have this sense that if I stay anywhere too long, then people will get to know me too well and will stop liking me, so it kind of helps to move after every major life change. I mean, the idea of raising kids where I once vomited in the street as a teen is not pleasant, and thanks to my semi-nomadic lifetstyle, I don’t have to. Phew.

I guess I’m being a little “male” in my compartmentalizing, but there you go. I tend to have chapters of life, and then move on. Of course with kids, you don’t get this luxury. Any screw up is permanently on the record, so you need to be the best person you can be ALL the time. It’s exhausting. But a really good idea.

Anything you do online is also permanent, which scares me even as I type these words, but not that much, because I’m not doing anything provocative. (Or maybe telling the truth is provocative…am I being so provocative that I just blew your mind?)

Enter Facebook. Here is everyone you wanted to see and not see, all in one fact-filled, endlessly dynamic, Twitteresque state. You can tell everyone what you ate for breakfast, as well as be reminded of the many breakfasts in the dining hall you were still drunk for from the night before during college. You can reminisce with people you haven’t talked to in 15 years about the time they hurled on your car! See photos of your fifth grade nemesis and note with annoyance that she is still NOT fat. Such a productive way to pass the time.

Anyway, I am eternally grateful that there is no record of some of the things I did in my past, even though primarily they were normal, garden variety offenses and neither particularly offensive nor illegal. So glad the Internet was Internot. (sorry)

But of course you can’t escape your past. And some of it is worth salvaging. There are some cool people I’ve found (or have found me) online (on Facebook, natch) who remind me that some core things don’t change, and we can pick up right where we left off 20 years ago (minus the electronic music and electric Jello™ shots). But inevitably you end up digging through the past, looking at people you used to know and remembering things you did not enjoy, and alternate between relief that that time in your life is over and wistfulness for the rosy-hued past events you’ve romanticized beyond recognition over the years.

Starting over with new friends in new places just adds more layers to your past. When you walk into the metaphorical room for the first time every couple of years, you get a clean slate. And clean slates are good.

But I’m learning that no matter how many times you start over in a community, you still bring your self, such as it is, with you. And that includes your memories. So the whole reset thing is illusory. So maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to live in the same place where you grew up. After all, I’m enjoying Facebook, and it’s a huge neighborhood full of memories that never go away.

And never will.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Comment: Potty/Jello

It’s amazing the things that won’t phase you once you become a parent. Things that normally would have set my teeth on edge, or have me fleeing for the hills before kids, just don’t seem to be that big of a deal to me anymore.

Case in point: I’m in the bathroom taking care of business when my son appears with a box of Strawberry Jello and asks if we can make it today. I am not particularly non-plussed, but we do have a rule about no food in the bathroom, so I politely ask him to remove himself and said Jello and give me some privacy so I can finish my bathroom chore in relative peace.

This is the sort of thing that happens a lot, and after awhile you just don’t register that it’s out of the ordinary, because it isn’t.

When your daughter marches around the house naked, her underwear in her hand, waving them, flag-like, it’s just a normal day. When your son wipes his hands on your pants, you just remind him that that’s what napkins are for, and continue trying to conduct a conversation (such as it is) on the telephone. And when your daughter is doing the pee-pee dance and doesn’t make it, but ends up in a puddle of her own steaming urine, ah well. Part of the process. Deep breath. Time to get out the wipes.

There’s just so much that you take for granted as a person without children; you do things like make supper, use the bathroom, bathe and apply makeup uninterrupted. You can even have a long conversation on the phone, whose degree of difficulty only increases as your kids get older and (a) drop their naps so there’s no down time and (b) are interested in and understand in part what you are talking about on the phone. And once your kid starts to read, forget about it. Watch those i-ms, emails and texts, because even a small child can sound f-u-c-k and usually get it right.

So there are things you can’t do with ease anymore, and there are things you do that you never dreamt you’d do. I remember holding out my hands for my child to vomit into. If you don’t have kids, that’s utterly disgusting. If you do have kids, it’s still utterly disgusting, but also natural to do so since you’re at Starbucks and you REALLY don’t want to deal with vomit on the floor in a public place.

I mean, I’ve heard that women used to suck the mucous out of their kids’ noses by mouth, because those fabulous little rubber syringes weren’t invented yet. GAH. Happy to have missed out on that. But I understand it; if your kid can’t breathe, you’ll be a human vacuum for him without blinking; what choice do you have? There’s only time for a reaction, so you go for it.

The things we do for love.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Question: Is it me or do other people just want to howl likes babies when they feel bad?

Because I know that society does not accept nor permit such displays of distress in anyone over the age of about 4 or 5, but still. Does that mean that we don’t feel as deeply as we mature? I think not. I think we just "mature" ourselves into submission and quiet desperation with the rest of polite Western society and we don’t allow actual physical sobbing to emanate from our bodies. It becomes taboo.

But we all know that even as adults, there are still plenty of things that are sob-worthy, and that we are definitely capable of said sobbing, given the opportunity to do so, which we’re not. At least not very frequently.

I’m always fascinated when I see someone non-North American mourning at a funeral, because there is some serious sobbing going on. It’s unfettered grief, and we all hold that in us in some shape or form. Why are we Western-type people so uptight that we can’t let it out sometimes?

Probably because as is stands now, most people in the United States (and, honestly, Canada) would call 911 if they saw someone sobbing in the Safeway. And sure, that’s not the ideal place to be sobbing, but if the spirit moves you, you know, you might just cry in public. It's not a crime. But it really freaks people out.

I noticed that even at deaths here in the United States, people try to keep a lid on their feelings, and if you show any, all hell breaks loose. I know that when I lost my baby far into my pregnancy, I was crying all the time. People didn’t understand the loss because I hadn’t given birth yet; well, honestly, mothers understood perfectly well; it was kids and men and women without kids who probably thought, suck it up, what’s the big deal. And I remember telling one of the nice cafeteria ladies about losing my baby when I came back to work at the high school where I was working and she burst into tears. I had to comfort her. But at least she let it out.

Where am I going with all this? I don’t know, exactly. But there is a lot of pain in the world, and I don’t think it serves us to keep it all pent up inside us forever. Every now and then you should just pop that emotional pimple and let the pus out.

Okay. That is possibly the grossest analogy I have ever made. I hope you see my point in spite of it.

It’s okay to howl. If you want to cry in private, do so; it’s probably best, given how uptight the rest of us are about tears in grown-ups. But sob away if you need to. You might feel better when you’re done. Aristotle talks about this whole catharsis thing. A letting go of emotion, which theatre (ideally) supplies. Let go once in awhile.

(Wow, two days in a row and Mrs. Sage Advicey-Pants. What’s up with that?)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Question: Why do we always put off doing the things we most want to do?

Because it’s getting kind of annoying, this whole, not doing fun things. What’s the deal?

You know what I’m talking about; the things you long to do, but somehow never seem to have time to do. Learning to play the piano, taking a painting class, getting in shape, writing that novel, seeing that old friend who always makes you laugh. Why don’t we DO the things we want to do?

We get mired in the minutiae of everyday life: dishes, phone calls, emails, laundry, picking up and dropping off family members, aimlessly searching the web looking for the meaning of life, watching Jon Stewart.

And I’m wondering why we don’t get the hell ON with it.

My best friend and I talk about this a lot. She will find this wonderful book about writing and get herself and me a copy. Then we’ll both each carry it around in our purses for six months, “saving” it for some time when we can devote the time and attention to it that it deserves. We love the book so much, we don’t even allow ourselves to read it. Logical? Not so much.

The reality is, NOW is the time. I’m not trying to go all Eckhardt Tolle on your ass, but honestly, isn’t it kind of masochistic to put off doing things that you desperately want to do and have wanted since as long as you can remember?

I say let’s get this party started. My best friend and I are writing a book and nobody’s going to tell us we can’t or won’t. I have this blog and it’s my chance to spew my nonsense out on the world in the hopes of insight or a laugh, or both. There are other things I want to do, and I need to push myself to make them happen. Events don’t happen without action. Thinking, analyzing why we don’t do what we truly want to do is pretty daft, isn’t it?

So writing this blog? Good. Folding laundry? Lame, but necessary. Working on my plans for world domination in the realm of Theatre Education? Slowly progressing. But I still have to push myself to actually do things.

Example: I have the opportunity to coach some middle school kids in improv. It’s a volunteer and very part time gig, but I’m dragging my feet about it. Why? I would LOVE it. I keep finding excuses like lack of childcare or plain old inertia but when push comes to shove, I need to just set up a date to see the students and do it. I fully admit there is some fear involved. Let’s not forget anxiety, a major reason we don’t do what we want.

I also have a workshop to give on improv, and I find myself trying to find excuses to bail, to cancel, not to do it. Why? Fear? A little. I’m pretty rusty. But mostly it’s that I’ll LOVE it so much that once it’s over, I’ll feel the lack of it in my everyday life. Why taste the frosting if you can’t have a big slice of cake? At least that’s the mindset I seem to be in. Which isn’t necessarily a good one.

But some frosting and no cake is better than no cake or frosting, isn’t it? I think so.

What I really need to do is make the frosting a more regular part of my life. If you love doing something but almost never do it, examine why that is. I think a lot of what kept me from following my passions earlier in life was not knowing I could actually apply in the real world, so why bother? But where there’s a will, there’s a way. And hard work and a desire are the main things that make so-called dreams come true. It’s not inertia. It’s not sitting on your ass wondering why you have a muffin top (I know why, so shut up.). Your collection of poems is not going to get written if you spend all your time watching reality TV or surfing the Web all day (well, except for reading my trenchant wit, of course).

Get on with it. I will, too.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Question: Mucus—How much is too much?

I'm serious.

Today I kept my daughter home from school today because her nose was running a bit and she was looking a little rough. I also assumed she has what I have because I assume she gave it to me (and not the other way around) but who knows. We’re all Petri dishes at this time of year. Anyway, I wasn’t feeling well so I figured she had what I had.


While I felt like lying on the floor this morning in a semi-gelatinous mass while she played tea party over me, she insisted I be a full-on participant, dialogue included. I was trying to doze and she kept saying, “Mommy, don’t sleep!” to which I would respond, “Mmm,” proof positive that I WASN’T asleep, just resting my eyes.

As the morning progressed, I could see that Little Miss Busy was fine, and should have gone to school, but that it was probably good that I didn’t go. (It’s a co-op; I was supposed to work that day at the school, but wasn’t in great shape for that, I can tell you.)

What do you do with an active preschooler who wants to play all day when all you want is to be snuggled up in bed drifting in and out to NPR? (I’m a wild woman). Well, you adjust. You manage. You fake it. You watch a loonnnnng DVD called "The New Shanghai Circus Presents Acrobats of China" that you bought two years ago and watch two hours of contorting, petite Chinese youth defying the laws of gravity, physics, and possibly thermodynamics.

But enough about my day. The question is, how much mucus gets a stay at home free card? Obviously if it’s any color on the spectrum, or it’s prolific, it’s home again home again jiggidy jig. But if it’s clear, and not copious? I used to think I should keep the kids home even in this situation. But since it happens EVERY OTHER DAY and judging by today’s energetic performance, my daughter was fine, is fine, and I was projecting my gnarliness on her. So I’m wondering how sick is too sick? A fever equals sick, certainly. Vomiting within 24 hours? Sick. Stay home. These are easy. The Mucus Question is far more nuanced. I ask you to think about it, if your stomachs can handle it, and get back to me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Question: Is there such a thing as a stress bubble?

You know, we had the bubble and the housing bubble, which burst all over our faces like day-old grape Bubble Yum.

So since we’re all so stressed at the moment, does that mean that stress will increase exponentially until it becomes unsustainable and then pop all over us?

Cause I’m thinking that will be pretty gross. Because I think a stress bubble is week-old Hubba Bubba, regular flavor.

How stressed is too stressed?

These are crazy times, with hopeful tinges. The election saw to that. But taking a long time getting into a problem implies that it will take a long time to get out. I love the Simpsons episode where Homer and Marge are talking and he’s gotten himself into some predicament and she says, “There’s no quick fix for this” and he says, “I like your idea of the quick fix.”

Don’t we all.

But there isn’t one, and even though the heat is being turned ultrahigh at work for people, at least they have jobs. In the grand scheme, this is not a tragedy like a war or a famine. I feel like a spoiled brat for even complaining about it, but it just scares me when the rational people in my life get scared.

Maybe there’s a fear bubble too. What flavor of gum do you suppose that is?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Question: What is it about exclamation points?

I know I’ve already talked about emoticons. But lately I’m on a bit of an exclamation kick, and it’s kind of freaking me out. Seriously!

I’m pretty sure I know why I am peppering more in my written communication these days. I’m the reporter for my daughter’s preschool’s newsletter, which means that I get to write about 40 kids (some of whom I have barely met) every month in some detail. I’ve noticed a sharp increase in the use of my exclamation points since I started this gig two months ago, and I’m wondering how that affects my image, such as it is. Because kids tend to do and say cute things that demand exclamation points. They’re just so dang cute!

See, the way I look at exclamation points, mainly kids or teenaged girls use lots of them. It seems a youthful thing. If you overuse them as an adult, it’s kind of disturbing because it immaturizes the writer to me by at least a decade or two when they do that!!! Do you see what I mean? It’s freaky!!!

On the other hand, I shouldn’t poo-poo exclamation points, because they are truly expressions of enthusiasm, which is a good thing. I’m sure that some Obama supporters use exclamation points, so why shouldn’t I? And this very blog server always tell me "Your blog has been posted successfully!", which always kind of makes me feel good. If it were a period following that line, I don't think my self-esteem would get that little kick.

And besides, what's wrong with enthusiasm? I’m known in general for my “bubbly” nature, and my exuberant extroversion, which has been known at times to drive people out of the room. So if I’m down on exclamation points, isn’t that, in some sense, a form of self-loathing? And don’t we have enough self-loathing in our world as it is?

I say yes to exclamation points! Yes!! Yes!!! Yes!!!!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Complaint: A Fly in the Musical Ointment

Okay, there’s a flaw in Pandora, the make-your-own-radio station website. If you listen for more than about half an hour, the songs start repeating. I understand why; they can’t afford the licensing fees for every song from every era and genre. But I don’t know about you, but much as I dig the electro-tastic sounds of Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy”, there are only so many times in your life you should listen to it. Ditto for Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” and “West End Girls” by The Pet Shop Boys. A nice day to start again, indeed.

After awhile you start having flashbacks to the 80s and that’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, either, but it is a thing.

Example: I am remembering a time in college taking care of a friend who was ultra-drunk and we were all at what in Atlantic Canada is called a “Beergarden.” It’s basically a booze party held in a large, dark room with loud music. Insta-bar. The drinking age was 19, so most of us in the first two years of our illustrious academic careers couldn’t buy booze there. But it’s not that the rest of us didn’t drink. We did, but we drank before we arrived, because we freshpeople couldn’t get the coveted hand stamp you needed at the actual event.

What we did to get alcohol in a sleepy little New Brunswick town? (Which back then did not even have a McDonalds; the closest one was in another province) you called a cab, asked them to pick up some booze, some mixer, maybe some cigarettes, and they drove it TO YOUR DORM. The price? The cost of the goodies plus $2.50. I am not making this up.

Nowadays such behavior would be an indictable offense, but back in the mid-eighties it’s just how you got booze if you were under-aged.

There’s an alcoholic beverage in Canada called alcool, which is something like 98% alcohol, and it’s brutal. We would get that, mix it in a (clean)* big plastic garbage can with Kool-Aid ™ and go stupid crazy drunk. And for just pennies a glass.

One of my friends, a cheerful lad from The Bahamas, got seriously intoxicated before the Beergarden, and proceeded to vomit on us, and others attending said Beergarden, after having shouted, “Where’s Luba, man? Where’s Luba?” about 300 times before said puking and subsequent passing out. (Note to Americans and well, anyone not Canadian and young in the 80s—Luba was quite a good singer whose big hit was, “Every Time I See Your Picture I Cry.” She was playing at the Beergarden. My friend did not vomit on her.)

Ahh, good times.

So listening to Pandora is bringing all sorts of old memories I didn’t know I had, as I listen to the music of my youth. And no, they are not paying me to keep saying Pandora. I just like saying it. Pandora. Pandora.

Speaking of which, if you want a really random song, check out Tori Amos’ “Pandora.” That woman goes places nobody else goes. And not all of them are places you’d want to go.

That’s it for tonight. Go relive some memories.

*(I mean, come on, we weren’t animals)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Comment: 80s Music=Downer

I’ve been listening to the music that we listened to in the 80s. No wonder we were so depressed. New Order, Depeche Mode, Violent Femmes, The Smiths; there wasn’t a happy one in the bunch. (On the other end of the spectrum were the bubblegum pop stars like Martika and Stacie Q. (or L.) who were so sweet it hurt your teeth to even hear them blaring from the speakers at the mall.)

These were the musicians who influenced me the most in the 80s. Let’s not forget one of my all time favorites, The Cure, who are still making good and depressing music even as they physically atrophy. (My back hurts too, Robert Smith, but nobody looks as good as you with bedhead and eyeliner—we wish we did.)

Why was this music so popular? Teenage angst is certainly part of it, but it goes deeper than that. Because those artists made music about deep, non-age-specific angst. Because you know ultimately we all just want to be loved, and that’s why I think I loved The Cure (and their ilk) so much. It wasn’t so much that the world sucked, but it sucked to feel alone, to be alone, and Robert Smith and Morrissey really got it. Smith was more abstract about it. If you’ve ever heard “Like Cockatoos” you know what an unbelievably accurate and painful break up song that is. And a more mainstream hit of theirs, “Pictures of You” is filled with such longing and loneliness you hum along in recognition and nearly burst at the end when he kicks in with the harmonies. You wait the whole damn song for that part. It’s killer.

Morrissey just laid it on the line—life sucks, you’re alone, then you die, while other people are happy and not alone and have jobs they may like, but you don’t, and you never will. But on the up side, you can feel unrequited passion, nay, love, for someone, who will without a doubt not love you back.

No wonder we drank.

Somehow with the winter season approaching and depression creeping around dark corners and lurking in the sunset it seems fitting to talk about the blues a little bit. We all get them, some of us more than others. Listening to sad music can amplify the sadness, but it can also do the reverse. I’ve been cheered up by Morrissey, and The Cure too, for that matter. Sometimes naming the emptiness fills it up just a little bit. And belting out "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" can actually sometimes make you less miserable.

As you may infer from this comment, I’m listening to Pandora, which as I have previously mentioned, will create a radio station for you based on a band or even one song that you like. It’s kind of amazing. You start to realize how alike all those songs are. They have the same style of harmonies, the same harmonic intervals, the same formula and structure.

So when we say, “kids today, with their music, it all sounds the same and it’s all awful,” we’re actually being hypocritical because we like our music a certain way too. We feel comfort from the sameness. The market may be crashing, your plants may be dying, but dammit, you can expect a Cure song to sound like a Cure song and that’s something.

There’s a cool book I own but haven’t yet read yet called “The World in Six Songs” which, I believe, explores some of this territory. I’ll let you know more after I read it.

And on the topic of sadness, I read somewhere that people who drink more than one diet soda a day are more likely to be unhappy or depressed. Kind of interesting.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Comment: Damn you, Disney!

You’ve read about my issues with Disney before. But this time I have something kind of positive to say. We took out “Pocohontas” from the library and we all watched it together. (My rule of screen viewing of any kind: ALWAYS watch first with the kids. Otherwise you will not understand why your child uses the expression “squeeze her like a pimple”. (It's Willy Wonka's line.) Otherwise your jaw might break as it drops to the floor in front of the large audience of people at the grocery check-out line.)

So even though it’s, well, Disney, the heroine in the eponymously-named “Pocohontas” actually does something. She thinks, she acts, she feels, and she ultimately stands by her family and her heritage, not her man. Wow. Revolutionary albeit who knows how (in)accurate it is relative to the true story. I’m curious now and will have to look it up. We didn’t learn about Native Americans in Canada. So there’s not a lot of lore to unlearn. Somehow though I’m sure Disney took some artistic liberties with the script.

Anyway, not only does the star of the movie think (and sing) for herself, she is athletic and (of course) good-looking, and not Caucasian with blonde hair, thank God.

I praise Disney for having a female lead who doesn’t just wait for the man to arrive to solve all her problems. John Smith causes more problems than solutions, but his arrival catalyzes her maturation as a member of her tribe. (Am I possibly reading too much into this? I don’t think the five year olds on the playground are discussing feminism, but you never know.)

Why I curse Disney in this instance is due to the swelling music at the end of the film, when Pocohontas has made her decision not to follow the man, and she’s standing proud and tall, and the wind (which has colors one can paint if one is sufficiently tuned in) is blowing and the music is swelling. I watched that part today with my kids and it gave me the shivers.

How manipulative. How embarrassing. How very Disney. There’s something universal they manage to tap into in spite of their general prehistoric takes on femininity. They, gasp, can make a cynical old mother have a frisson of feeling, a little shiver of recognition with the cartoon character on the screen.

Well played, Disney. Well played.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Comment/Complaint: It's been a day.

It started out with my daughter having a nasty-looking rash on her face when she got up this morning and it went downhill from there.

She was pissed that she wasn’t going to get to go to school. I too was slightly chagrined, having had a dental appointment I then had to cancel, among other things. So we went to the doctor's office and waited 45 minutes only to be seen by not our kind and gentle pediatrician but "the other doctor" in the practice, who was brusque and kind of annoying and rushed us in and out so fast my head was spinning.

The doctor estimated Fifth’s Disease, which is no big deal except to pregnant women, two of whom are friends of mine and the kids. So I spent the afternoon telling my friends they may have been exposed to an illness they don’t want to be exposed to in their conditions. I know it wasn’t my fault but I still felt like an asshole. I tried to be calm and cheery but underneath I felt panic.

Then the kids knocked over the lamp with the energy-saving MERCURY bulbs, and to say my reaction to the shards of mercury-glass was not very calm is an understatement. If you look up the word composure in the dictionary, my picture will not be there. Try “Shit, shit, shit, dammit, shit!” There I am, with my eyes closed and my mouth open.

So after I did my best haz-mat cleaning, my daughter peed a RIVER in the bathroom. I kid you not. There were puddles. She holds her pee for so long that it overwhelms her (and anyone nearby).

So I did what any sane parent would do; I got on the exercise bike and rode and rode and rode until I sweated off the tension of this gnarly day.

And after all was said and done, both of my children were absolutely tremendous. They cooperated, didn’t fight with each other, and never did I have to get cross. So they handled the day way better than I did.

I wish I could be that calm and graceful parent, mellow under duress and filled with serenity. But I’m not. I’m the loud one shouting; but also the one who is the first to give you a big fat hug and tell you how much I love you. And my kids are stuck with me.

And now I’m going to bed before more damage occurs.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Comment:This is a momentous occasion and seems worth noting here.

So I’m noting it. It’s unprecedented. There are so many people who will write more wittily and eloquently and with trenchant political insights, and they will surpass any skill I have in the area, so let me just say this one thing:

Rock and roll.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Comment: Food Update

So here’s the latest on the food thing. What with it being Halloween and all, it seems like a daft time to be dieting. But if not now, when? I ain’t getting any younger, and my middle is only going to spread if I don’t take action.

I never wrote down everything I ate before. What an instant effect that has! Suddenly I don’t want to write down how much chocolate I eat, so I don’t eat it. Or when I have that craving for ice cream, I ask myself, do I really want to write that down? And the answer is usually, no, not really. I’m not usually hungry when it comes to dessert, (never, probably) but I still WANT dessert.

Just four days without chocolate and last night (Halloween) I had one (1) mini dark chocolate mint Milky Way and you know what? It wasn’t that good. Was it worth the 60+ calories? Not really. The five chocolate chips I then scarfed were much tastier. But I did stop there. I’m learning anew what a person of extremes I am. And what an addictive personality I have. Or maybe those are almost the same things. I’m like Ado Annie in “Oklahoma”—“I caint say no” (and if you have no idea of that reference you’re probably way too young to be reading this unless you like laughing at the chronologically-challenged) or at least it’s damn hard for me to do so.

So perhaps dieting also involves refining your tastes. If you’re going to splurge, make it something you really want. Makes sense.

I’m also doing a lot of reflecting these days because I always get that way before my birthday. Sort of happy and melancholy at the same time. Of course it doesn’t help that it’s November and suddenly it’s dark at 5 and it rains a lot more where we live now than in Southern California. We spent 9 years there and I feel like even with every light on in the house it’s still too dark here sometimes.

So there’s the whole seasonal adjustment thing. It’s the time when I would probably normally just chow down on carbs and sweets, comfort foods. So although this is a challenge, it will get easier in the Spring, and by then hopefully I’ll be where I want to be and won’t need to be quite so vigilant.

But I would like to banish a little of the belly fat. It’s healthier. And it looks better.

And on a totally unrelated note, if you haven’t checked out Pandora, the online Music Genome Project radio station, you should. You tell it a song or a band you love and it instantly generates a playlist for you. I love it.