Monday, March 31, 2008
A reader of my column in Chicago sent me this photo insisting it is real. I say Photoshop. (To which she responded "...sorry you can't accept the truth.") Shouldn't there be water streaming from the whale? Wouldn't the woman standing there be a wee bit startled? ("Her name is Dianna...")
What say you?
OK, I’m back from Mexico City and ready to stop milling around for a while—I need to hunker down and make some money.
I, of course, have read and heard much about how big Mexico City is but nothing prepared me for the sight of it from the airplane window. (“View from the airplane window”—travel writing cliché #237...) It’s breathtaking, a blanket of city draped over the valley and climbing the mountains. It just goes on and on and on.
I didn’t get to see nearly as much as I would like to in this whirlwind weekend but I saw enough to know the city bears a repeat visit or three. Unfortunately, it’s a tough sell. When I told one editor I was going, he said, “We wouldn’t send our readers there—too dangerous.”
I never felt the least bit threatened, but I didn’t go out alone at night and evidently my companion and I lucked out when we hopped into a cab on the outsized Zocalo—our driver didn’t know where our hotel was but he studied our map carefully and took us directly there without robbing or raping us. Generally, though, tourists are advised not to jump into any old taxi, since taxi crime is a big problem.
This companion was convinced that the city’s reputation was simply Hollywood hyperbole, but a quick Lexis-Nexis search confirms the city’s rep. The U.S. State Department website also warns about street crime ranging from pickpockets to kidnapping.
OK … forewarned, but it’s still a cool city—bustling and metropolitan, as European-feeling as Latin American, chock full o’ art and culture and history and fine dining.
I contend that the greatest danger in travel is not necessarily because one place is more dangerous than another (although of course, in reality, this is true) but that we don’t always recognize danger in new-to-us cultures.
During our first days of a two-week trip to Thailand, my companion and I felt perfectly OK walking around Bangkok at night. Call me racist, but the men were mostly slender and so pretty, we couldn’t imagine that they were capable of doing us any harm. When we returned to the city at the end of our trip, more accustomed to the country and less starry-eyed, we realized that a city with a huge sex tourism industry—which Bangkok has--couldn’t be half as benign as we imagined. We exercised more caution on those last days than we had at first.
I have been mostly fortunate in my travels and can think of few places I wouldn’t go because of crime. However, I am cautious and, when traveling alone in some places, dine early and don’t traipse around at night. It’s kind of a bummer. I’ve often said that the only time I wish I were a man is when traveling alone. Sometimes I’d love to just pop into a bar for a nightcap but in many cases, that’s not wise.
(I said this once among a group of travel writers and a gigantic Southern dude insisted I was being silly. “I took my girlfriend to a rough backwoods bar once and within minutes she was surrounded by barflies having a GREAT time,” he said. “She wasn’t afraid.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You were right there, keeping an eye on her.”
He looked startled. “I never thought of that,” he said. Der.)
Anyway, Mexico City’s crime problem may be a sad reality—but the happy reality is that it’s one hell of a city. I’d go back, crime or not.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
The newspaper has been redesigned for our convenience. It is now narrower. Oh yeah, they saved a little money but honest, that is secondary to our comfort. What a relief! I had a terrible time hanging on to that big old newspaper. I practically strained things. Now, reading the newspaper is a snap!
Trouble for me is that narrower pages means narrower columns means shorter stories. I'm getting assignments for 250 and 500 word travel stories. Kill all the adjectives!
Jack was a sale dog. He’d been at the SPCA for so long, they cut his adoption price from $50 to $25. Such a deal!
We’ve been hemorrhaging money on him ever since.
First, there was expensive training boot-camp. Then a behaviorist. Then we had to add an extra three feet to our property fence because he was jumping that and scaring the mailman. (That was more work than money but it was both and it looks crappy.)
We tried to find doggie day care for him so Tom would have options when I travel, but as soon as they hear “dog aggressive,” the discussion ends. We had to give up.
Our groomer, who did a great job on the big ol’ hairball, went out of business and now we have to find a new one. The last place we tried was owned and operated by a bunch of gayboys whose nervous energy put Jack all on edge. I left him there but by the time I got home, I had a voicemail asking me to come and get him. They suggested we tranquilize him for the grooming so we called our vet—who has never liked Jack—and he prescribed pills that had Jack nodding and stumbling like Sid Vicious on a Saturday night. Hm. Maybe half a pill next time. I wasn’t wild for the grooming, though. It was choppy and his tail went from a graceful sweep to a hairy stub. No thanks. The search for a groomer continues.
Now Jack has found a way out of the yard by crossing a creek into the neighbor’s yard and out the front. He doesn’t do much, but he likes to nap under a bush in front of the house and chase away the postman. The other problem is that when there’s water in the creek, as there is now, Jack gets muddy and filthy and, as some of you may recall, he won’t allow us to touch his back feet, which means muddy footprints in the house.
We’re getting so beaten down.
Yesterday I got an estimate on an invisible fence for the back property, which will be another $1,200. And we don’t have any choice.
I will say this—Jack has come MILES from his early surly self. I’ve been working on his dog aggression and we can walk past the archenemy dog across the street these days and he only goes a little crazy, not totally Cujo. It’s an improvement. If visitors listen to what we say (ignore him and don’t put a hand out to him), he’s perfectly lovely to be around. And I still enjoy the big galoot’s company.
But so many problems and expenses. And we thought ZsaZsa, with her myriad health issues, was a hassle. ... Believe it or not, we vaguely discussed the notion of giving Jack a night-night shot, but that’s really out of the question. Really. Still, we are so worn down by his quirks and costs, that every evening, when he slips out the back, Jack, to rile up the dogs in the alley behind our house, Tom and I only half-jokingly tell each other that with any luck, he won’t come back.
He always does though. And we’re sadhappy.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
I watched the movie Hair on AMC the other night. Some of you know that Hair holds a very special place in my heart. I was a stage door groupie for the Broadway show and even auditioned for it when I was, like, 12 years old. Yeah, really. No, I didn’t get a part.
Anyway, the movie wasn’t great and I haven’t seen it since it came out in 1979, but I was thrilled to see it listed the other night, when I was planning a solo late-night couch party. It was great fun.
Hair depicts the seismic societal changes of the late ‘60s but what the movie brought most strongly to my mind is the very distinct experience of growing up in the 1970s, when I went to see the show over and over, longing for the jubilance of the life of those who came just before me.
My cohort comprises the tail end of the baby boom (I was born in ’58, the boom is generally accepted as ’46-’64). Mine is one of those in-between generations, stuck in a muddy trench between the revolutionary idealism of the ‘60s and the brittle excess of the ‘80s. The 1970s were a dark time, when the drugs really kicked in and the pristine visions of the flower children started looking like snow in
A teenager through Watergate, I was acutely aware of it without entirely comprehending what was happening. I just breathed the sour air of corruption, mistrust and anger surrounding it. I didn’t know anyone who went to
Drugs and sex were seeping ever more deeply into popular culture but the sex was a lot less jubilant than it seems today. Nobody was used to sexual freedom yet and it all seemed a little bit tawdry--sex clubs and poppers and leather bars. I was too young to be a part of all that but I knew what was going on. (The famous sex club Plato’s Retreat was not very far from my home. Once, a man standing outside asked me if I would go in with him, no strings attached, because single men were not allowed in. I declined.)
Wedged between the nuclear family ‘50s and the loud reinvention of parenting that began in the ‘80s, many of my generation were untethered from their parents. I roamed
That was the '70s NYC-style but I recognize the same style of sad and surly independence in the suburban teen lives depicted in the movie and book The Ice Storm. Tom, who was born in 1960, sees his
In some ways, the 1970s gave me a dark world view and chopped, diced and spliced my values into a strange amalgam of idealism and cynicism.
I don’t mistrust the government as deeply as some (perhaps the fact that Watergate was uncovered and punished inoculated me against total cynicism) but I believe it bears close watching and that voting is among our most significant responsibilities. I also believe that if newspapers go under, the great loss to society will be unbiased investigative reporting.
I think the era affected how I view sex and drugs. I’ve seen lots of casualties of drugs and so have less of a moral objection to them than a pragmatic one because they do some bad shit. I avoided the harder drugs many of my peers did. I never tripped, but I did do cocaine for a while. I don’t anymore because it killed my brother and I hold a grudge.
Coming of age while culture was in flux perhaps made me more broad minded, more flexible in my rules of morality (for better or worse), than those who came before or after. In general, I am forgiving of our darkest nature, tolerant of transgressions and raw in my assessment of human nature. I don’t think humans are bad. I just think we’re all a little fucked up. And that’s OK.
And, by the way, I miss the ‘70s desperately. Those are my good old days.
Monday, March 24, 2008
We were pleased to note that today's war toys reflect reality.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Anyhow, Moos writes: Six in 10 boomers in their 50s have told pollsters that they would like to switch careers someday and find jobs with a higher, social purpose. Many have set their sights on education, health care, the ministry and social services.
I was trying to switch careers to social work when I went back to school in 1999. Too bad I set my sights on a field that requires a post-graduate education because after I finished my BA, I realized I didn’t have the dough for grad school and when it comes to scholarship money at my age and station, pickings are very slim.
The last scholarship I applied for, the Jack Kent Cooke, required me to disclose not only all my assets, including retirement savings, but also to submit financial data from my parents. Nuts, right? I don’t know what to think about having to hit up dad for his data but the idea is, according to my adviser at UTD, my alma mater, which had to nominate me, if you’re not willing to drain your assets in pursuit of education, you don’t want it enough. Yeah, that’s fine when you’re 22. When you’re 50, it would only prove that you’re too stupid to educate.
In the end, after I’d filled out an extensive application—including six essays and all this financial data (and no, my father was not thrilled about supplying it), my adviser decided not to nominate me. I don’t know why, he didn’t say in his bland one paragraph notification though he hinted it was money. As in, I wasn't poor enough. But it was a blow. There just aren’t many opportunities out there for the likes of me. The JKC Foundation mission is “lifelong learning.” Yeah, my ass.
I might have had enough of chasing this particular dream. Remember when I posted this article about closing doors? It might be time for me to close this door and get on with my writing career, such as it is. I just don’t know how it’s going to support me into old age. AARP has scholarships for women and was overwhelmed with applications in 2007. Maybe I’ll try that next year. Maybe. Or maybe not.
Speaking of age...
Arbella Perkins Ewings, world’s third-oldest woman, whom I quoted a week or so ago, passed away nine days after her 114th birthday. Way to hang on for the ink, Ms. Ewings. And R.I.P.
Unrelated crime report: Somebody is setting cars afire in the Cliff. Yikes.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
I'll glom off of Ruth's post today so I don't waste my entire day. Again. Stop on by. Ruth is a swell writer and thinker.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I’d like to point out that racism is divided by race but in our world, all the races are united in sexism. Women are fair game to all. You can make jokes about women in general. Jokes about fat women are mainstream. Old women are frequently portrayed as ridiculous. Blond jokes are a national institution.
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, Feb. 13, 2008
Relaying a joke told by Penn Jillette: "Obama is just creaming Hillary. You know, all these primaries, you know. And Hillary says it's not fair, because they're being held in February, and February is Black History Month. And unfortunately for Hillary, there's no White Bitch Month."
And this is different from Don Imus…how? Actually Don Imus managed to insult all women, black and white, but it was the black part that caused the real uproar. (The column from which the above was excerpted, by NOW president Kim Gandy, is great reading.)
Women are still murdered for being not toeing the line men set.
From NOW: Every day four women die in this country as a result of domestic violence, the euphemism for murders and assaults by husbands and boyfriends. That's approximately 1,400 women a year, according to the FBI. The number of women who have been murdered by their intimate partners is greater than the number of soldiers killed in the Vietnam War.
From UNESCO, as published on PBS.org:... the UNESCO project illustrates the wildly varying data on human trafficking produced by government organizations and NGOs (non-governmental organizations). For example, in 2001, the FBI estimated 700,000 women and children were trafficked worldwide, UNICEF estimated 1.75 million, and the International Organization on Migration (IOM) merely 400,000. In 2001, the UN drastically changed its own estimate of trafficked people in 2000 -- from 4,000,000 to 1,000,000.
There’s that pesky wage gap…
From NOW: Fifty-five percent of all women work in female-dominated jobs (jobs in which women comprise 70 percent or more of the workforce) whereas only 8.5 percent of all men work in these occupations. However, the men working in female-dominated jobs still receive about 20 percent more than women who work in female-dominated jobs.
And poverty gap…
From the U.S. Census: Women are more likely than men to live in poverty.
In 2001, 12.9 percent of the female population and 10.4 percent of the male population lived below the poverty level. Poverty rates were highest for children: the proportions of boys and girls (those under 18) who were poor were not statistically different (16.4 percent and 16.2, respectively). From ages 18 to 64, the poverty rate was 11.6 percent for women and 8.5 percent for men. For those 65 years and over, the poverty rate was 12.4 percent for women compared with 7.0 percent for men (see Figure 6). Like income, poverty varies by family type. Of families living in poverty in 2001, 50.9 percent were maintained by women with no spouse present, 40.5 percent were married-couple families, and 8.5 percent were maintained by men with no wife present.
In my business, some of us were mighty happy to learn of women doing loudly what some of us were doing quietly for years— counting bylines in the major (i.e. prestigious and high-paying) magazines. What a surprise! More men than women!
Am I pissed? Yup, I’m an angry white female.
Speaking of what not to wear, I then pick up my paper and see a photo of this full-grown man, Jason Helgeson, dressed like a five-year-old and am yet more disgusted.
Guys can get away with just about anything but when women gripe, even other women turn against them.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Lara raises an interesting conundrum in her recent blog post about social/relational aggression, which is behaviors—rumor spreading, exclusion—we typically attribute to teenaged girls. A school principal recently told Lara that she was seeing a sharp and surprising increase in social/relational aggression from boys.
So, Lara speculates, is it possible that zero-tolerance anti-bullying programs are not eliminating bullying but just pushing it underground, into the guerrilla bullying we usually associate with girls?
And I wonder: Is it possible that aggression—physical or relational--can’t be stopped because it contributes to our emotional and/or moral development? Does it teach us lessons about survival? After all, the world is full of people who suck. We need to know how to recognize aggression and protect ourselves from it.
That’s what people who are bullied learn—if they survive the bullying. I know not all do, or they are wounded. Here we are yet again, at my favorite words for living: That which does not kill us makes us stronger. Because the first time you stand up to a bully and watch him or her shrink back, or the first time you realize you can deflect emotional blows with attitude alone, is a powerful moment.
But what of the bullies? If bullying itself is a developmental stage, what is it good for?
Some young bullies learn empathy, I’m sure. Based on nothing but what I would like to believe, I think some young bullies have epiphanies, a moment when they see something in the eyes of a target, or hear their words echoed back to them in a new way, or face a bully themselves and experience a compassionate awakening, when their hearts grow three sizes.
But some young bullies just grow up to be old bullies. These people, I think, are the narcissists. I don’t think all narcissists are bullies but I speculate that all bullies are narcissists because one of the hallmarks of narcissism is lack of empathy and one must be lacking in empathy to be intentionally cruel to another human being.
So thinking about all this got me thinking—can empathy be learned? Is an adult who lacks empathy capable of developing it? Is empathy a behavior, a thought or a feeling? (What is a feeling, anyway? Entire books have been written about that.)
Meandering through these thoughts, I stumbled on this little article about mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that respond equally when we perform an action and when we witness someone else perform the same action.
In other words, when we see someone else do some things, our brains light up as if we were doing that thing ourselves.
The main reason I have trouble watching violent movies is because I have sympathetic pain. If I see hurt, I hurt. Physically. I can’t even listen to people describe dental procedures. And as a child, I was big on sympathetic throwing up. If someone else hurled, I’d hurl in solidarity. Not all the time but it happened. Could that be overactive mirror neurons?
Research on mirror neurons started with monkeys and peanuts (doesn’t everything?) and is now to the point where researchers are looking at whether the neurons are triggered according to the intent of the action witnessed. For example, in one study, participants watched videos of a hand picking up a teacup.
In one video, the teacup sat on a table amid a pot of tea and plate of cookies--a signal that a tea party was under way and the hand was grasping the cup to take a sip. In the other video, the table was messy and scattered with crumbs--a sign that the party was over and the hand was clearing the table. In a third video the cup was alone, removed from any context. The researchers found that mirror neurons in the premotor cortex and other brain areas reacted more strongly to the actions embedded in the tea-party context than to the contextless scene.
Taking this research about a thousand stages from this, we could extrapolate that emotional empathy is also connected to mirror neurons—that thinking about the sadness or pain of someone else would fire up the mirror neurons so we feel the same in us. We would “feel their pain.”
Can this be learned? Now that brain science tells us that the brain is not a locked black box but can grow and change, I suppose this means it can, theoretically. I can’t think how, though. Nor would it would be easy—even if you could find an unempathetic person who believed it something worth learning. If you don’t care, you don’t care, right?
Monday, March 17, 2008
This photo accompanied a story in today’s Dallas Morning News about how Mexico tourism is suffering because of drug violence. The article was pegged to spring break, the headline is “Spring-breakers brave Mexico despite drug war threat.”
Note to parents: If that’s your daughter in the photo, you’ve got more to worry about than the drug wars. This scene is grotesque to me.
Obscure news you can use: April is National Car Care Month and The Vinegar Institute joins the Car Care Council in offering motorists advice to keep their vehicles in tip-top condition...Put the power of vinegar into your most beloved ride with these quick tips:
* Wipe the length of wiper blades with full-strength white distilled vinegar to remove grime and keep them clean...* Spray or wipe 3 parts white distilled vinegar to 1 part water on windows to keep them frost-free. Repeat every few weeks to keep windows crystal clear...* Dilute white distilled vinegar with water and sponge it into your vehicle’s carpet and blot up to remove stains, ground-in dirt and salt residue...* Don’t forget those once-prized bumper stickers! Saturate the tops and sides of each sticker with full-strength white distilled vinegar and allow to soak through. Scrape them off with an expired credit card. Use additional vinegar to remove any remaining residue. This also works wonders on those cute little stickers children like to decorate the windows with! (Note: Try on a small, inconspicuous area first.)
I loaded up this video mostly to check my Internet connection, which has been hinky, and got all choked up seeing my late brother Oliver as the conductor. (My brother, Nick, the other guy in the vid, is alive and well in NYC. As is Lyn Byrd.) Handsome bunch, ain’t they? In an oh-so-'80s way?
If more flotsam floats my way, I’ll hurl it yours.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
We took the light rail (Dallas version of public transport) and started with a dreary, greasy dinner at Friday’s in the West End. If we’d had a clue, we would have gone to Victory Plaza instead, where we could have overpaid for a meal but at least had more attractive people to look at while we did.
(Note to Dallasites—what went wrong with the West End? Tom and I went to the opening festivities in the 1980s, when all was excitement and promise. Now it’s a bleak wasteland. The West End Marketplace is closed and empty. Dallas Alley is dark and creepy and deserted. I did like the Archway of Random Neon Geometric Shapes, leading from Dallas Alley to the Plaza of Empty Promises before you reach the razzle-dazzle of Victory Park. But my gosh, if it weren’t for the aggressive roses-selling guys and a few misguided tourists, the West End at night would be deserted.)
Anyway, we went to the Cambridge Room, which is the smaller HoB venue, to see The Donnas. The tickets were listed on the website for $15.50 but somehow cost $37.50 for two at the box office. That pissed me off from the gitgo.
Then, as we passed through exterior gates, a couple dumpy security guys with wands approached us and muttered at us officiously and unintelligibly.
“Wha?” both Tom and I said.
“Take everything metal out of your pockets, put your purse on your wrist and hold your arms out,” they clarified, only slightly more intelligibly.
Oh, OK. The guy preparing to wand me—-he looked like an enormous five-year-old and sucked on a lollipop—-started waving his wand like I was a plane taxiing to the gate.
“What?” I said. “Purse too high up? Open it? What?”
He kept waving the wand.
“Use words,” I finally said.
Evidently, he wanted me to take a step to my left so, I guess, he could be spared the monumental effort of taking one step to his left to reach me.
“OK, I guess I’ll move over,” he said, through his lollipop.
Yeah, good idea. He gave me a perfunctory wanding, peeked in my purse and waved me on.
“You know what, Tom?” I said as we walked the ramp to the doors.
“You hate the House of Blues already?” he guessed correctly.
Happily, the Donnas were already on stage. (It was an all-ages show; I expect that’s why it was deliciously early.) The crowd was mostly men. We did note a few couples in roughly our age range. Former punks like us or tourist game for anything? Hard to tell. Tom bent over for a $5 can of Shiner, I saved for my retirement by not drinking anything.
The Donnas were Miley Cyrus punk. Very Disney slick ‘n ‘shiny. Lead singer Brett Anderson was altogether too talkative between songs and her patter was needy, focusing entirely on whether or not the crowd was sending enough love her way. She was having a good time—the crowd was loud and loving her—but that was pretty much all she could talk about. Ho hum. I did like her arms, though. I would like long, lean arms like that. Tom declared her not as hot as she was when she was younger. So what else is new?
While the band did their thang, dawg, we entertained ourselves speculating about a young-ish blonde in a short black sequin dress circa 1992 who was allowing herself to be dance-humped from behind by the parade of exceedingly dorky young men she was partying with. Tragic, really.
We were in bed by midnight, sated by calories, music and mocking. It was a good night. It would have been a great night, in its own ridiculous way, if it hadn’t been so damn expensive. The Cambridge Room pleasant enough but honestly, it will take a helluva band to get me back there.
It may have been rock and roll but it wasn't really rock and roll.
Friday, March 14, 2008
I’m generally a fan of Jezebel, a snarky site that takes on the news, media and celebrity through feminist eyes. Granted, their posts add up too quickly for me to keep up with—they’re the kudzu in my Google Reader—but I try to skim it every few days.
I was waaaaaay turned off, however, by this post, about kicking commentators off the list—they call it “Commenter Executions”. You have to be approved to post comments on Jezebel and according to the FAQ, you can be given the guillotine if your comments are, “excessively self-promotional, obnoxious, or even worse, boring.”
Wow, doesn’t this slip neatly into the Queen Bees stereotype of popular girls? It’s not enough that the arbiters of snark must boot those who don’t live up to their expectations. The executions must also be public and gleeful. Yuck.
Researchers into popularity, like my friend Lara, might call this social aggression and in its schoolgirl form (perhaps later in life, too, though I don’t think researchers have gotten there yet) it can be as damaging as wedgies and getting beaten up for your lunch money. Bullies is bullies, with fists or words. Or rolling eyes, or exclusion, or rumor mongering. Bullying takes many forms and it’s ugly in all of them.
Actually, if you perused my recent MySpace squabble you witnessed a beautiful example of social aggression/bullying. After all, who else but a bully would boast about mocking people who are weak?
I’m trying to continue enjoying Jezebel but don’t know if I can. I have no respect for bullies.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Finally today, I carved out time to wait, however long it took. My post office has a "Quick Window" for such non-cash transactions. "Quick" is used loosely. In fact, I could have waited on line for the slow window and gotten there about the same time someone moseyed up to the quick window and helped me. OK, it was maybe 5 minutes, but I rang and knocked several times and the clerks behind the counter, who could see me standing there, carefully avoided making eye contact with me.
I finally got the package.
So, what was this special delivery I wasted precious minutes of my life on? A large poster showing where all the Intercontinental Hotels in the world are located.
A massive waste of time, money and paper. What did they imagine I would do with this? Frame it? Hang it? It won't fit into my files. I'm sure I can learn whatever I need to know online, and I don't need to know anyway.
Straight into the recycling bin it goes. Little is stupider than stupid PR.
"After the break, Valerie Bertinelli talks about Eliot Spitzer and infidelity."
Great. It’s not enough that we have Spitzer and his stupidityfest--we also must be subjected to a former teen idol’s spin on it. (Am I correct in thinking that everyone—men and women—of a certain age had a crush on sassy little Valerie Bertinelli back in the day? I’m sorry to be hearing her blathering all over the place, promoting her new book. She looks great but she's annoying.)
Read in the newspaper this morning:
Bargains move closer to home
With 3 outlet centers planned to open in ’09, area shopping commutes will get shorter.
Hell in a hand basket, I say.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
The topic du jour is suicide.
In the darkest days of my adolescence, I often indulged in the comfort of what the pros call “suicide ideation”—I thought about killing myself. On a pretty regular basis. It seemed like a pretty simple solution to all of it. Maybe I was a miserable teenage girl, maybe I was just a teenage girl. Dunno.
A couple of things people said kept me hanging on.
When I was about 13, Julie, a slightly older and equally melancholy friend, said that she thought the idea of “attempting” suicide was bullshit. “If you want to kill yourself, you don’t fail,” she said. We were on the hot back seat of the 104 bus, rumbling down Broadway. She stared straight ahead into her bleak future as she said it, and I knew she was right. I lived in a 12th floor apartment. If I really wanted to die, nothing stood in my way. Her words embarrassed me, forced me to acknowledge that as much as I found solace in the thought of dying, I clearly was not committed to the concept.
Many years later, I was hanging out in the Stromboli pizzeria on St. Mark’s Place, where my friend Steve worked. Steve was from a small town. “You know why I would never commit suicide?” he asked, leaning on the counter like a bartender. “There was a guy in my town who killed himself. It was terrible and all that, but after a while, everyone forgot. He probably wanted to make some kind of big point, but everyone just moved on.”
Yikes. That’s not an appealing thought, either.
Eventually, I memorized Dorothy Parker’s “Resume” and got on with my life. (Julie lives on, too. I think she’s a doctor or something.)
And as I got on with my life and moved past the bleak terrain of adolescence, I started understanding that the real problem with committing suicide is what it does to the people you leave behind. That is the immorality of suicide.
I’m on the topic because we just had a high-profile murder-suicide here in Dallas--a couple of movers in local politics.
I feel deep sympathy for the family and friends of the couple who decided their troubles were too much to bear. My heart breaks especially for their son, a senior in college, to whom they bade good-bye to in a phone call.
But because I did not know this couple, I feel free to indulge my anger towards them.
Perhaps more will be revealed over time, but according to newspaper reports, the Shaws were evidently driven to despair by life’s “turbulence,” according to a friend—much of it self inflicted. They had run up huge debts and Mrs. Shaw allegedly forged a letter from the Dallas County district attorney to avoid a debt and was facing a criminal trial. Mr. Shaw had prostate cancer, although friends said they thought treatment was working.
Yes, it sounds like they were having a rough time of it--I'm not being facetious when I say that. One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons is a guy standing in an hour glass that has the word "Life" written on it. Instead of grains of sand, bricks fall on this guy's head, one at a time. Bonk, bonk, bonk.
Were the tribulations of the Shaws life really rough enough to justify what they just did to their son?
How self-absorbed. How cruel. How unnecessary, selfish, childish and cowardly.
In a way, I almost hope something really terrible in their lives comes to light, something that might somehow in some way justify this action, something that will let their son know that only the most dire circumstances would cause them to visit such a terrible tragedy on him. Debt? Unethical behavior? Hey, you were tough enough to do it, buck up and face the consequences.
When I was suicidal, I thought not committing suicide was cowardly. Now I understand that the reality is the opposite. (Except in the face of mortal illness. I have known people who have chosen suicide over an unavoidable and unbearable physical decline. I understand and respect that.)
I am also annoyed at James Ragland, who tried to be poignant about the Shaws but ended with a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar about the faces slaves wore to please their masters while inside they were in agony.
Slaves? C’mon. As far as I can tell, the Shaws were slaves only to their own aspirations. There is, of course, tragedy to their story, but they are not victims. They made choices to the very end. The analogy insults Americans’ mutual history.
P.S. This afternoon, a woman threw her two sons off a highway overpass then jumped herself. They all lived.
P.P.S. Required reading for all people contemplating suicide: Tad Friend's New Yorker article, Jumpers, about people who jump from the Golden Gate bridge. Not all of them die. One of my all-time favorite magazine articles.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
I-35 is a blessing and a bane—a zippy jaunt to a beloved town that has grown slower, rougher, more torn up and less lovely every year. This is a major artery through the nation. Trucks and heavy traffic, heat and cold, have rutted the asphalt, construction areas seem to settle in for decades, with occasional adjustments to the orange cones and lane closures. While landmarks still include the dome caterpillar at the Monolithic Dome Institute and the shop of guy who does chainsaw sculpture, much of the view is malls and industrial sites of various uninteresting sorts. Except, of course, Waco, which is a nifty little town to visit and I don’t care what you think.
On a good day, the drive takes three hours. Today was a great day, I made it in 2:45, with no stops. The longest it has ever taken me was five hours, due to blinding rain and construction. What a white-knuckle misery that was.
(Digression: I left here on Sunday morning. I’d planned an early start and dragged myself out of bed at about 6:30. I was in the kitchen, staring into space and drinking coffee, when I heard Tom calling weakly from the bedroom, where he was trying to remain asleep, “Sophie … daylight savings time.” Shit. I was barely awake and I was late already. This explains my packing job. I forgot shampoo, deodorant, earrings, eye makeup remover, and a belt.)
Anyhoo, we all have our rituals for the drive. I usually am compelled to stop in West for kolaches, which are Czech baked goods. (Not this time, though. I was in too much of a hurry.) I like the cottage cheese kolaches, the very thought of which gives Tom the dry heaves. He likes sausage rolls and cherry kolaches, if I’m not mistaken. And we like to stop at a little butcher off the highway that makes the world’s best beef jerky. Beef jerky and gummi bears are the road’s two essential food groups, to my mind.
A random observance: I noticed that while the billboards for Up In Smoke Bar-B-Q still feature a worried-looking cartoon cow, the cow is no longer being consumed by flames, which was always a little disturbing to me.
I was starting to think about filling up the tank when I spotted a Chevron with the ungodly low price of $2.76 a gallon. Score! I pulled off, pulled into the station, opened my gas cap—and then realized the station was long closed. Boarded up. Moths and cobwebs. Der. I pulled into a Shell station across the street and paid $3.16 a gallon. I later realized that this was about the highest priced gas on the road. What do you bet they leave that crusty old Chevron sign up on purpose, to catch hapless knuckleheads like me? A mile down the road I could have paid nearly .10 a gallon less.
Also, because I have promised Kristen a bathroom reference whenever possible…I see they are building some kind of bathroom spectacular fun house happy play area rest stop,to replace the old rest stop near Salado, at which I have rested many, many times. These new “Safety Rest Areas” are part of a statewide initiative to improve the rest areas and now, says to TxDot (Texas Department of Transportation) “motorists can’t thank us enough.”
Though not open yet, the new rest complexes look splendid indeed, all made of stone with playgrounds and walking trails (and according to the website, wifi as well as heated and air-conditioned bathrooms). However, I find myself already feeling a little nostalgic for the open air bathrooms with the stainless steel toilets to which I’ve grown accustomed. They weren’t fancy but I have to say, they were always immaculate. As I waited for a stall on Sunday, I gazed up at the blue sky above and reminisced.
So, how’s this for a rambling and inconsequential blog? As soon as I have more time, I’ll tell you about the rockin’ exhibit about the Beats I saw at the Harry Ransom Center on Sunday.
In conclusion, on the drive home today I listened to Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful three times in a row. I’m such a sappy girl but that song moves me.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Brown writes: Much has been written about how boomer women have rallied to Hillary's cause (she won an impressive 67 percent of the white women voting in Ohio; they were 44 percent of the total). It's fashionable to write off this core element of her base as rabid paleo-feminists fighting the tired old gender wars of the past....
It's a revolt that has been overdue for a while and has now found its focus in Clinton's candidacy. In 1952, Ralph Ellison's revelatory novel, "Invisible Man," nailed the experience of being black in America. In the relentless youth culture of the early 21st century, if you are 50 and female, the novel that's being written on your forehead every day is "Invisible Woman." All over the country there are vigorous, independent, self-liberated boomer women—women who possess all the management skills that come from raising families while holding down demanding jobs, women who have experience, enterprise and, among the empty nesters, a little financial independence, yet still find themselves steadfastly dissed and ignored. Advertisers don't want them. TV networks dump their older anchorwomen off the air. Hollywood studios refuse to write parts for them. Employers make it clear they'd prefer a "fresh (cheaper) face."
Yup. And a lot of us are getting surly about it.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
"She told me once that the secret to a long life is she spends six months minding her own business and six months leaving other people alone." said Ruby Perkins Williams, 55, a great-niece.
Friday, March 7, 2008
So, let’s get flotsam!
* Last night I saw a TV ad for a re-release of the Disney classic 101 Dalmations, which was touted as a perfect Easter gift. Um, since when is Easter a gift-giving occasion? Peeps. Peeps and chocolate bunnies. Those are Easter “gifts.” Let’s nip this in the bud right now.
* Product news release of the week:
Before you go to the restroom spray - POO POURRI
You think I could make that up? No, my friends, this genuine new product (being promoted by “Pillowcase PR—we’ve got you covered!”)
Basically, you spray this stuff into the bowl before you foul it and, "...essential oil proprietary formula creates a film on the toilet water surface, effectively trapping embarrassing odors.”
"Imagine . . . Not only not leaving odor behind but also not experiencing any odor while using the restroom. Could it get any better than that? People have said that this product has actually transformed their bathroom experience, and you know what we’re talking about."
Actually, the young woman in the photo here looks like she trapped her embarrassing odors by slamming the lid down and sitting on it. Or, considering the hat, it’s entirely possible her shit don’t stink.
* Which brings me to my next flotsam, this article about a young man in South Pasadena who managed to initiate a No Cussing Week in his town for the first week of March.
You may have noticed that I really enjoy profanity. Sure, lots of people consider it refuge for mini-minds but I can live with that. I’m comfortable with the size of my vocabulary and my intellect. But I enjoy “bad” words. I just do.
I have my standards—I’m not fond of motherfucker but I will toss out an occasional mofo, just for fun. I’m not crazy for cunt, but if I use it you can bet I really hate the bitch. And I do try to restrain myself in company who might be offended, although Mary assures me that my “screwed things up”—tossed out at dinner the other night with a bunch of her church friends---didn’t ruffle a feather. I think that’s the worst I spewed that night…
* How ‘bout these animals, competing in Amsterdam’s stiletto run. I can barely walk in those things…
* I enjoyed this column in my paper today about soul-killing teachers.
Man, who hasn’t had one (or more) of those? I love that this writer dared call them out.
* And finally, apropos to nothing, here’s a fascinating NYT article about the décor in therapists’ offices.
One of my longtime shrinks had a generic print of a Paris street in her office that was poorly framed and slipping in its frame. This picture framer’s wife could barely stand looking at it. Another, who I ended up breaking up with for various reasons, had framed on her wall the famous Saul Steinberg New Yorker magazine cover, View of the World from 9th Avenue. The print came up when I was ending our relationship because, I pointed out, this was a type of parochialism I left New York to escape. It just annoyed me. (So I moved to Texas, where no parochialism exists...)
My last therapist had hanging by her window what, after many months in her office, I realized was supposed to be angel wings, not lungs, as I’d always thought without giving it too much thought. She also had a quietly burbling fountain somewhere in the office. I always thought it was plumbing somewhere deep in the walls.
Well, that’s it for now. If any other flotsam drifts through my mind, you’ll be the first to know. But really, I should get something done today.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
This is just a few weeks after a deeeeeelish book project I thought was in the pocket was given to another writer. I’d planned to hit the ground running on it when I got back from India, but no. Someone else is writing my book. Bastard.
My friends, I am flattened today. See that person-shaped rug on the floor? That’s me. If you poke me with your toe, I will grumble, but I won’t have the energy to pick myself up.
So, what do you do when you need to soothe yourself?
My yoga class this morning was useful. It was with the teacher with magic hands. She likes to walk around making adjustments. Sometimes she just lays her hands on the spot on your body that needs relaxing (usually my upper back) and the muscles just let go. Magical.
I know Mary self-soothes with British costume dramas. She has a huge library of them and I have to say, they can be effective. Especially accompanied by wine and chocolate. Chocolate always helps, of course. Also baked goods. Things involving cinnamon.
But last night, while a protoplasm of beaten-down-ness on the couch, I stumbled upon the last 30 minutes of My Fair Lady, starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn (and whoever played Audrey Hepburn’s voice). Boyhowdy, there was some good distraction. I started enjoying The Reluctant Debutante afterwards (it was Rex Harrison night on AMC) but the hour was late and I needed to go to bed.
I’m still feeling pretty blecchy today, though. So what shall I do for myself?
I say, more Broadway musicals!
My office is a sty. Nobody can work in a mess like this. So off to iTunes I go, to buy My Fair Lady and maybe The King and I and Guys ‘n’ Dolls who knows what else. I will crank up the show tunes, sing along lustily like a great big goober, and clean my office. I might even have cinnamon toast.
Fuck ‘em all! Onward ho!
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
The accusation as intended is a double-insult because it not only says I’m old, but also that my age is a bad thing. And admittedly, by taking it as an insult, I was perpetuating for myself the stigma.
I’m finally ready to push back.
Don’t underestimate the middle-aged broads. We are the insurgents.
I’m reminded of a Mediabistro party I attended a couple of years ago, shortly after the Dallas Morning News had massive layoffs. After frat-boy-about-town Tim Rogers made an unprovoked, unnecessary and obnoxious crack about my age, I wandered away from his exalted hipitude to be with my own, a group of pissed-off middle-aged broads (including several who had just lost their jobs) sitting at a table quietly plotting to blow shit up. We laughed and griped and laughed and plotted. No, we haven’t exactly blown anything up but we sure weren’t having a quilting bee.
Mediabistro parties, which occur in cities across the country, are infamous for their youth orientation. I’ve been to two in Dallas and felt marginalized at one and insulted (as described) at the other. When I was in New York once, I tried to get a colleague to attend one of the parties there and she declined, having had the same experience. I decided to stop attending Mediabistro parties.
But now I’m just pissed. Showing my age? Yeah, maybe I am—and it’s a competent, powerful and, once one comes to terms with the number, increasingly self-assured age. I've heard that as women age, they tap more into their masculine qualities and with men it's the opposite. Know what that means? We have a lot of personal resources to draw on. Power, baby.
Just because we’re not loud doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to say. I’ll go to the next Mediabistro party. Don’t want to bother with antiques like me? Fuck you and all your little friends. And let me know when you figure out how you’re going to stop your own aging process.
Don’t count us out, kids. Maybe we didn’t want to cram into crowded arenas and swoon for our candidate, but when it’s time to vote and caucus, we show up. And no, I don’t suggest all women my age voted for Hillary. But a lot of my friends did and I think we surprised you, yes?
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Well, yeah. I dislike Tom Cruise but not going to fault him for this hygiene habit. You want to be careful in India. Actually, you want to be careful everywhere. One of the worst nights I ever spent was after visiting a McDonald’s restroom in Memphis. Since then, I’ve become Cruise-ian about washing my hands.
Speaking of health and India, I’m still taking malaria pills. It looks like I have another two weeks to go. I’m kind of annoyed that the nurse I saw at the travel clinic, although she noticed and asked about the psoriasis on my hands, didn’t mention that these malaria pills exacerbate it. And boy, do they ever. Don’t look at me, I’m disgusting… (She didn’t know anything about medical travel to India, either, which casts doubts on her travel medicine knowledge, to my thinking.)
For a few days after I got home, I was pretty sure I had meningitis, despite the vaccine I got against it, because I had a stiff neck. But since I had no other symptoms, I concluded it was 24-hours-in-economy-classitis.
Happily, I returned from India healthy as when I left.
But now here’s a grim story in today’s DMN about a hardbody runner who was bitten by a mosquito on the one unprotected spot on her body (her face). She got West Nile Virus and will never be the same. The end.
Wow, that’s a picker-upper. Especially since she did just about everything right—but she wasn’t diagnosed quickly enough. Yikes.
And here’s a compelling quickie about how Americans’ fixation on happiness cuts us off from a full life. Rock on, fellow melancholic.
It brought to mind a maudlin short story I wrote for a high school creative writing class. It involved a talking dove and a sad old man. (The assignment was to use five specific words in a short story. I think “dove” was one of them. Also “stool” so the old man was sitting on a stool in the sunshine. I don’t remember the other words. I guess I could have gone in a whole different direction, what with "old man'" and "stool" but I don't know where the dove would have worked in...)
The story ends with the old man saying this: Yes, dove, I want to die. Not now, though. I have had a beginning and a middle to my life. I want to make the full circle. I have had happiness, love, joy. Now, left for the end, come loneliness and regret. Perhaps they are painful but I want to die with perfect symmetry to my life. For each joy, I want a sorrow. For each filled moment, I want a moment of loneliness. Is not a moment of loneliness just as fulfilling as one with companionship? I shall die eventually and I shall die happy with the knowledge that my life has lacked nothing. I want nothing from you now, Dove. Return to me and remind me of what I have said when Death is approaching and I am afraid.
Deep shit, eh? I got a good grade, anyway, and the teacher made me read it aloud in class.
Now, cheer up and Texans get out and vote. How exciting is this?
Sunday, March 2, 2008
My brother has shipped down to me my mother’s sewing machine, accessories and sundry sewing room detritus. It’s been sitting around in boxes in my office because I haven’t time to go through it nor space to store it. The sewing machine will stay in its box until I can get a new cabinet for it. After some discussion, Nick and I decided Mom’s old sewing machine cabinet, though steeped with deep nostalgia for us, was barely hanging on and wasn’t worth shipping.
In some ways, Mom’s sewing supplies are her most intimate possessions. They were an extension of her. With her hands, she molded fabric and thread into crisp suits, fluttery skirts, dainty smocking. Knitting needles were extensions of her fingers—they twinkled magically and intricate webs spun out.
Although Mom did teach me to do crewel embroidery (it’s been a long time…) needlepoint was a complete mystery to me. Mom would sit for hours on the couch with a large frame perched on her knees, a magnifying glass balanced on her chest from a cord around her neck, a sheet of graph paper with a complicated pattern of miniscule dots and x-s lying on the couch next to her. Her needle flew up and down, sometimes making a tiny “pop” as it penetrated the tightly woven and stretched canvas.
No, I didn’t have patience for that kind of work.
Nick and I agreed to give the needlepoint frames and other needlepoint accessories to our childhood friend Jean, who also does needlepoint and counted cross-stitch and who worshipped Mom’s artistry. She will use them with love.
I got the sewing stuff, which has been sitting around for weeks until this morning. I am excited that sewing has finally “taken” for me and will probably keep me entertained for years to come. I know Mom was happy about it, too. I am thrilled to have Mom’s sewing machine and iron (who knew an iron could be so good?) but didn’t know what I would find in the rest of the boxes, beyond a Ziplock full of tired looking thread and some grubby pincushions.
But as I started unpacking the box, I saw Mom through refreshed eyes.
Mostly, I thought, “Wow, she knew how to use this stuff?”
I opened one box and it was full of sewing machine needles, a multitude of sizes and types, most made by a German company. Different types of needles work best in different kinds of fabrics; for example, you need a ball point needle for knits. I am only beginning to master and appreciate the nuances of needles and was overwhelmed by the selection Mom has collected. In a small scrap of fabric, she had carefully pinned a row of used machine needles, for later use. Clearly, she knew by sight the exact purpose of each needle.
This grimy box of bobbins has been around as long as I can remember. I’ll keep it for sentimental value, even though I also am nurturing my own grimy box of bobbins.It’s a treasure trove. If Mom owned a sewing gizmo, chances are excellent it’s a genuinely useful sewing gizmo and of good quality. I haven’t rummaged through this box yet but I’ve already identified a special ruler thingy for measuring out buttonholes. Sweet. I hope I can figure out all the other gadgets. I have no idea what the red thing or the white triangle are for but I’m a believer in the right tool for the job and if I can puzzle them out, I’m sure there are lots of great tools in here.
I picked up a plastic box thinking it was storage for the kind of little useful chazzeri that one keeps next to the sewing machine—stitch rippers (I found three among the flotsam) and thimbles (just one) and stray buttons.
But upon opening the box, I gasped and fell to my knees:
These are all sewing machine feet, each for a different type of stitching. I’ve used a zipper foot and a zig-zag foot and a buttonhole foot, but this…
I’m in way over my head. And my respect for Mom grows.