Monday, April 14, 2014


So I was in a foreign country with the other adult in my family and our kid, and the roads on this mountain were, like, made of rocks. Not gravel: big, nasty, rocks. (and it turns out that rocks are better than mud, in case you're wondering, because rocks give the tires purchase when it rains).

And we're heading down the side of the mountain in the car and it turns out that the car has a flat. Our 2 wheel drive 4 cylinder sedan has a flat. And it sounds like every little bump is so loud and rough that the car is going to tear itself apart. I mean, it sounded like the axle itself was dragging along the ground. It just sounded really awful.

We traveled down the side of the mountain this way for something like two miles. It was the longest two miles ever. People on the road would pass us and point. I was driving like no more than 5 miles per hour. I was sweating. It just took forever.

We pull into the service station and the service station guys look at the car and the tire and they just start banging the hell out of it because the flat tire is actually stuck on the car. They're kicking the shit out of the thing, and they're using all sorts of metal instruments and they're going to work and it's not happening. I mean, the tire isn't coming off. Everything seems pretty grim.

And that's when we realize that the family's debit card is missing.

So that's when it gets, like, exponentially worse. We've just come back from the rainforest, so we're thinking that the debit card is maybe in the mud on a trail or something, or maybe it was pick pocketed or whatever--it's just, like, really bad. We can't find the debit card.

At this point I'm probably having a heart attack. A small one. That's what it feels like. And we're tearing apart bags and going through the trunk and the back seat. And the guys at the service station continue to kick the shit out of the flat tire. Everything just feels, a big problem. Not like a I've-been-kidnapped-and-forced-to-work-in-a-diamond-mine problem, and not a my-husband-of-20-years-was-just-diagnosed-with-cancer type problem, but the problem feels very immediate and extreme, because we're in a foreign country on top of a mountain, miles and miles away from any real civilization and the rental car as a flat and the DEBIT CARD IS MISSING.

It turns out that our kid is like the master-finder-of-all-things. And she saves the day. she finds the debit card in a random pocket of the big bag we're carrying around.

And suddenly, everything is better. Which is why I'm telling you this story. For three minutes, our bad problem was elevated to a really bad problem. And when we found the debit card, the tire suddenly seemed like so much less of an issue. In three minutes time, everything changed,...even though nothing at all had really changed. The flat tire was still stubbornly attached to the car, and we were still up a mountain with 15 miles of mind-bogglingly awful gravel road between us and the nearest real city.

But it turned out we had the debit card. Had never really lost the debit card. It was with us the whole time.

Sometimes I get stuck in these problems and I forget about all the things that are going right. Which is why I like that story. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

I started watching Mad Men and I've realized something

So I started watching the first season of Mad Men and it's what you would expect: men in an office smoking, men wining and dining, men acting like pigs. Pretty wardrobes. 

I knew that there would be a lot of sexism, but I just can't get over it. There's a LOT of sexism. And it's not just the men. The women are sexist against themselves! It's just like I've always heard, about how women were taught their place was the kitchen, how they needed a protector, they weren't as smart as men, blah blah. and they bought that shit. they bought it.

The main character is that guy Don Draper you've probably all heard about. And he's this womanizer who, like, seems to pick a different woman to satisfy every different part of his personality, every different need. This one the mother of his children, the obedient wife, that one an independent artist, that third one a successful heiress and business woman.

DD's wife is a poor thing raising their two kids in a beautiful house in a lovely neighborhood on Long Island. Sounds horrible right?

Actually, no, it sounds idyllic. A nice yard, sweet kids. Enough money.

But she's getting numbness in her hands and has been told it's probably psychosomatic but she can't decide what could possibly be wrong with her. How could she be unhappy? Doesn't she have it all?

Every house on their block looks the same, every household is the same. The women are in the kitchen, smoking and gossiping. The children are wearing cowboy hats. The men are dressed in suits and working in Manhattan and parting their hair to the side with lots of hair product.

There's a woman down the block from DD's wife who is this like ostracized dissenter--she's a divorcee--and all the other housewives on the block have turned on her. They even said that a divorcee can lower property values, but I doubt this is the real problem. the problem is she BROKE THE RULES.

See, DD's got everything he's supposed to want and he's not happy. The same goes for DD's poor wife. But they don't do anything except live with it and wonder. The divorcee is like know...knife in their side. This nagging reminder that it doesn't have to be the way they've been taught.

At first I was just floored by the lack of options facing the women in this time period. Their job choices, their life choices. They're told what to want. They're given a narrow number of job opportunities and can have no career if they want a family. And they must want a family. And they have to keep their house perfect and smile for their husbands and rely on their husbands, etc.

Their lack of choices kept swirling around in my head until it struck me that the men have a startling lack of choices as well. They look the same, they sound the same, they act the same. They provide, they drink beer, they wear sweaters, they smoke. They make sexist jokes. They must provide. 

Some months ago I wrote an entry about how I was reading A Wrinkle In Time. This is what I said:

"The kids in Wrinkle In Time are on this planet where everyone has submitted to IT, and IT controls their minds and actions and those who don't submit to IT must be reprogrammed and reprocessed in a way that's very mentally painful. It's actually very creepy and dated at the same time."

I said in the entry that I thought that the fear of "IT" was about communism. I just assumed. I don't even know why, exactly, that a loss of identity and communism must go hand in hand. I just know it must. Because I have been taught that communist governments control their populations with an iron fist. I still assume this to be true although I really know surprisingly little about the way communism plays out in a real world situation. I have heard stories about long lines for bread in Russia and about media censorship in China. 

And I'm not saying that A Wrinkle In Time isn't about communism. Or that I really know that much about real life in the 1960's just because I've now seen the first five episodes of Mad Men. 

I'm just saying, the first season of Mad Men takes place in 1960. A Wrinkle In Time was first published in 1962. Coincidence? hmm. 

One more thing, unrelatedly. 

The knotty pine kitchen in the Draper house... 

I have that kitchen. I have the knotty pine cabinets. it's so kick ass. I even have a stove from 1949. and it's so kick ass.

That knotty pine is going to last those Drapers forever, for better or worse.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

By William Blake

I taught the kid poetry. My kid. I taught her a few poems, to recite them.

I recite poetry. To myself. It's a hobby. Sort of. I like to recite poetry to myself when bored. When doing dishes. And then one night I was...I don't know, I was doing something with my kid near or in the bathroom...and it was something mindless like helping her with her hair or helping her dry off after a bath or whatever, and I taught her the first few lines of one of the shortest poems I knew:

Oh rose
Thou art sick
The invisible worm 
That flies in the night 
On the howling storm
Has found out 
thy bed of crimson joy 
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

William Blake

It amazed me how quickly she learned it. This girl seems to reject literature in most forms. Rote memorization though... She's fine with that. So now it's this game: I say the first line, she recites the rest of the poem and completes it with an attribute to the author at the end. William Blake.

I picked it because it was short, but It's a hell of a poem to teach to a pre teen. I think, really, it's about (invisible worm) venereal disease. I have mentally dissected this poem and I see a stupid, innocent girl (rose), candle flames and red wine (dark secret love), silk sheets (crimson joy), fever, ruination (howling storm), early death. 

Probably there are subtler, more elegant interpretations. Mine is vulgar and obvious. 

Maybe it's not about vd, maybe it's about another kind of ruination. An affair and a scandal and a ruined girl. Societal ostracism. Rumors and whispers and nasty, bored housewives. Or maybe it's about a sick child. Cancer. Viral infection. Who knows.

But it's William Blake. That means at its core it is about loss of innocence. Even the "sick child" interpretation involves its own loss of innocence; realizing that life is cruel and horribly unfair, a dying child must lose innocence. 

I went to the garden of love 
And saw what I never had seen
A chapel built there in the midst
Where I used to play on the green
And the gates to this chapel were shut
And "thou shalt not" writ over the door
So I turned to the garden of love 
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw that it was filled with graves
And flowers where headstones should be
And priests in black gowns 
Were making their rounds
And binding with briars
My joys and desires.

Another Blake. Another poem to recite with sudsy hands.

We were taught Blake in high school. From what I remember, we got the "crappy" Blake. The boring Blake. Tyger Tyger burning bright. (If I remember correctly this is a poem about child labor, but no high school student could ever find the tyger metaphor compelling... Had I been taught the garden of love poem, that would have caught my attention)

I recited the garden of love poem to my daughter while painting the driveway gate and she said, disgusted, "are all poems about death?" (This is why the second poem I taught her was Dancing Pants by shel Silverstein)

I went to a William Blake show in London in 2001. I made the mistake of going on the last day it was in town. It was hot and crowded and his drawings are small and detailed. I caught glimpses of his sketches over the shoulders of strangers. 

If William Blake were alive today he would be drawing comics in his basement. And according to this posting by Mallory ortberg on "the" website, he would send seriously weird text messages to his friends. Read it here:

It's 11:40 at night and I have written this entire entry from my iPhone, so I can't make a hyper link to this website. You'll have to do the hard work yourself if you want to read it. And if you've made it this far in my rambling entry about William Blake, you really should read it. It's hilarious and weirdly poetic. Here's a little sample...William's texts are in italics. 

"I drew you something
oh wow
is it horrifying?
do you promise?
do you promise me that it’s not horrifying?
i drew you something
you know what I mean
what do you mean by horrifying
is anyone being
flayed alive in it
or committing suicide
or does something have eyes that shouldn’t have eyes
you know what I mean
never mind
sorry i bothered you"

I like to think about this version of William Blake, as he might exist in the 20th century. Socially awkward. Brilliant. Disturbed. In need of a friend who understands (or at least humors) his weird impulses.

God. If only I had a friend this strange. Someone who might show up on my lawn in the middle of the night wearing aviator goggles and carrying a test tube full of India ink. Ready to draw my portrait and talk about the end of the world. 

Not that I would be prepared to handle such a friend. My family would not approve.

It's midnight now. I will stop writing this, after I mention one more thing... There's a William Blake book covering his illustrations of the divine comedy. Here's a nice article on brain pickings, talking about the book and providing several beautiful pictures.

See what I mean? He'd be in a basement drawing comics.