Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The dog ate my . . .

So I've been AWOL for almost a month now and feel like apologizing to the ether. Sorry there, ether. I totally meant to fill your technovoid with my musings, but instead, as Beloved Fiance's mentioned, there's been some things going on.

Like moving. I know hating moving is like hating genocide or like the Coalition Against Sexual Violence (where's the Coalition for Sexual Violence?), but really, much like genocide and sexual violence, moving is totally terrible. There's a hard-core get-things done Zen-like trance that I can reach in the middle, but mostly I find myself thinking "All right. That's it. It's all going in the trash and I'm renouncing material possessions. Just a few t-shirts and a bowl and a spork. That should do me fine. And some sneakers. And maybe a book or two. And these barrettes. And that record. And this other book. . . " Sometimes it strikes me as a symbol of all that's wrong with the consumerist first world that we actually have a genre of television devoted to watching people throw away belongings they know longer use. We have a subset of television victims with whom we are all supposed to sympathize become they own too many possessions. This being only a couple generations removed from the Depression. But then, thinking back to every non-first-world home I've visited, I remember that the folks there are just as tchotke-happy as we, just like they like to eat as much as we do -- we can just afford more food and more knickknacks. We take it to excess not because we're worse people, but because we can.

And speaking of materialism, BF and I are mid-way on our attempt at home-ownership. There's still all kinds of papers to be signed and mortages to be discussed, and nothing will be final until "The Closing" (sounds like a science fiction series or a Mormon ritual, don't it?) but we're getting there. And I really hope we make it. We've learned enough from the past month of house-buying shenanigans to know that if this house doesn't work out, we might just get an apartment and start looking in the winter, but it's been an educational crash course in real estate. And bargaining. And coming face-to-face with your dream self and having to have that awful reckoning where you realize that you don't become the good version of yourself through shopping. It's "if I buy these pants, I'll do yoga every day" times 10,000. So I've been reeling back and forth between
"and we'll have dinner parties and I'll write every day and clean every other day and garden and do pottery and adopt stray pets and bake bread" and "Oh h-e-double-hockey-sticks, I could barely keep a one-bedroom apartment clean(ish) and generally operational, what are we thinking?" But I still think it could be awesome. And I really hope it works out.

And finally, speaking of adopting pets, we've been housesitting for the past 11 days and the house includes two very friendly, highly slobberific dogs who have a tendency to wake up at 5:30 in the AM demanding all kinds of highly urgent things. Side A: Early mornings are truly beautiful, and all that stuff in poems about birds and dew -- turns out it's true. Side B: Good Lord, I miss bed.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

A tale of three Gwens

First and foremostest of all, I have to hand it to the Neptunes. A year ago, I had grown disillusioned . . . sure their milkshakes brought all the boys to the yard, but what were those boys going to do once they got there? Move around to the same tired handclaps? I had written Pharrel & Co. off and, well, you know what they say about second acts in American careers.

And I was wrong. First there was "Drop it Like it's Hot" with its glacial yet persistent pace, its tongue clicks and glottal stops, and now there's my new favorite song, "Hollaback Girl" now playing in three different incarnations on local radio. Before this song, the Gwen Stefani singles had been leaving me mostly cold. The first song just sounded a lot like Madonna, which is, you know, fine, but also not that interesting. The second song sampled from "Fiddler on the Roof" and mostly served to show that our girl Gwen is no Jay-Z (or, perhaps more accurately, Dr. Dre is no Kanye West . . . who, btw, appears on the new Common song basically saying everything that August Wilson is trying to talk about in Radio Golf . . . the man is a genius, Good Lord . . . but I digresss).

And then Gwen came out with "Hollaback Girl" which combines catchy beats, high school rivalries, and just enough swearing to have three different radio versions. The pop station, where I heard it first cuts out the bad word with a graceful elision, as if to imply that Gwen merely trails off, leaving us to fill in: "This my . . . this my . . ." In fact, the first time I heard it, I couldn't even tell if there was supposed to be a bad word there or what bad word was supposed to be. Next time was on one of the hip-hop-and-r&b stations, where it sounded like, "This my shhhh, this my shhh." And, finally, I heard it on my favorite hip-hop-and-r&b station where the offending word was replaced by a series of goofy sound effects (cowbell, bo-ing!, crash, etc.)

Wondering what all of this meant about the personalities of these radio stations, about race and gender in America (like you do) and the parallel lives lived by different social groups in DC, I checked out the video online. Where Gwen, at the crucial moment puts her finger to her lips, to "shhh" us, and it hit me:

Catchy beats, high school rivalries, finger-to-the-lips coyness -- 'fess up, Gwen, you stole your shit from OutKast.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Why I'm raising the hypothetical childrens in a cave (Part 1)

No need for this crap in a cave.

Bad cell phone reception there.

Home/ Maker

I just made a skirt. Kinda sorta. To be more precise, I took a pillowcase, cut off a couple inches, sewed a hem-like thing, and snuck some yarn in the hem-like thing to make a drawstring. From far away it looks like it was made by a five-year old girl, and from close-up it looks like it was made by a five-year old boy. But, hey, it's mine. Had I not spent last week ragging on Bust I might be able to say that its DIY aesthetic was really a feminist (post-feminist?) statement, but instead I'll just admit it: I want to know how to sew. I really do. I'm not aiming for a complete Vogue pattern lifestyle, and I'm willing to walk away from the whole hipster-knitter thing with neither bitterness nor longing, but I would like to be able to sew a couple of basics. Curtains, for example, seem like a good place to start. And it'd be nice to be able to rehabilitate almost-perfect things from thrift stores. A begininer sewing machine is cheaper than an iPod, which is also encouraging. So I decided I should start small, and small I started, doing the whole thing w/ my dinky travel sewing kit from the front desk at work, and I may even wear it tomorrow, if the weather and my self-esteem hold.

Here's where I have to be honest, though.

It's not just sewing.

I live in a nesting fantasyland.

I could blame it on the fact that, starting in 2 weeks, Beloved Fiance and I are going to be nomads for 2 months, and I'm experiencing anxiety over our not having a home, but I think it's both deeper and shallower than that. For an empowered career woman with a fairly messy apartment, this is going to be a shocking confession, but I just really like thinking about housework. I don't nearly enjoy doing housework as much, but I find imagining it really soothing. Or watching it on television. Or reading about it. Or really, really reading about it.

In the way that I daydreamed about hanging at the mall as a 10-year-old, or keg parties at 15, now I think about having a washing machine in our apartment. Owing a vacuum cleaner. Painting the walls. Planting a garden.

And, yeah, sewing my own clothes, at least every once in a while.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Bleh. I wish I had more interesting things to say about being sick except bleh, but bleh's about where I'm at right now. Got the cold a week ago up in Boston and had been priding myself on dealing with it stoically until Friday night when the bastard decided to whomp me in the head. And chest. And throat. And, for a time, the ears, although that seems blessedly shortlived.

So now I'm a full-fledged snot monster, staying home from work and wishing (as I have on sick days for the past 20 years) that we had cable. Beloved Fiance also has caught said cold and there's an unfortunate run on the sympathy supply in the household. It hasn't yet devolved into an "I'm more pathetic! (cough, cough)" "No, I'm more pathetic! (sniffle, look forlorn)" fistfight, but give us time. He's got the moral highground advantage since I gave the cold to him, but I can do a better job of impersonating tubercular movie stars of the '30s, so I'd put the odds at even.

The only other news of note is that it looks like BF's cousin is getting married this summer (congratulations!) and we'll be attending 3 weddings in 4 weeks. I think this means that when I get better I get to go shopping. That's something to look forward to. Oh, and I'm so totally over Bust magazine. I keep thinking it will be awesome since it's published by former Sassy people and Sassy is one of the big reasons that I made it through the Mean Girls years with a sense of humor and a decent record collection. But Bust, well, it's kind of a, you know . . .

Look, I am absolutely these people's target demographic and that's what sucks me in. Their covers are like a list of things/people/ stuff I've been thinking about (PJ Harvey, Eddie Izzard, Sandra Oh . . .) and they aim to put the femme back in feminist, which is peachy by me. But somehow the actual articles are always really lame. "Hey, doesn't being pro-choice rock?" "Yeah, totally. And I made my shirt out of old napkins." Put it together with the crochet-your-own-vibrator-cozy ads in the back, and I just start to feel very old. I mean, in my book it's dandy to think a lot about women's rights and to want to wear kitschy faux-vint clothes and gobs of eyeliner, but these folks seem to condense the two. And, honey, you're not helping women in the Sudan by cutting your bangs short and wearing a poodle skirt with your tattoo. You're just not. At the end of the day, it's a lot more Suicide Girl than Riot Grrl, and I remember the early '90s too well to buy in.

Sunday, May 08, 2005


I'm sick of meeting ex-Catholics.

I saw the headline yesterday on the front page of the Baltimore Sun, while leaving CVS, and I didn't stop to read it because I knew it would make me mad.

So I waited until today, until I was done having a truly lovely weekend and needed to actually get down to the business of working, to check on it. And the headline, it seems, was right. As the New York Times, in their incontrovertible New York Times way, put it, "Vatican is said to force Jesuit off magazine."

And, yes, okay, maybe they didn't force him off, maybe they just politely said, "Hey, you should move on to other things now," and yes, being a priest means obedience, it means going where someone tells you to go, in the hopes that it's also where Some One tells you to go.

But still, it makes me mad and it makes me scared. The story, in brief, concerns Father Thomas Reese, SJ who was the editor of America magazine (which I'm only familiar with because I liked to roam around the periodical room of my college library. It was under "A," so I found it easily.) Father Reese apparently published articles with pro- and con- positions about things like gay priests and giving communion to politicians who were pro-choice. And now he's not the editor there anymore.


I'm sick of meeting ex-Catholics.

I'm sick of people like Jack Miles who go from writing really fascinating books on theology to writing snide and smug essays about how lame the church is and how glad they are they've left it. I'm sick of conversations like the one I had last night with an intelligent, articulate young woman about how meaningful she found the Catholic church when she was younger but now she's grown up and realized it's wrong and harmful and is so glad she left.

There is such a need in this country and in the world for smart, passionate people (especially clergy and involved laypeople) to debate, discuss, and argue these issues. To press for change while holding on to what is holy. And, if (and I know it's an IF) someone who was doing these things as a priest, is getting censured, I don't know what else to do but be mad.

I'm so sick of meeting ex-Catholics.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Gender Studies

For a variety of reasons that I would estimate as 50% my fault and 50% not my fault, I am at a work standstill and yet still at work. So, I start reading Arts and Letters Daily, where I find this as the opening teaser:

Give little boys and little girls a choice of toy cars or dolls: is what they reach for dictated by culture? Okay, now try it with vervet monkeys... more»

Took me a good five minutes to understand that they meant giving monkeys dolls and toys, not giving little boys and girls vervet monkeys. I'm frankly a little disappointed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Popemobile (a little late)

So I know the point of blogs is their immediacy, but, well, it’s taken me a week to get around to this.

Pope Benedict XVI.

He wasn’t who I was hoping for – in a lot of ways. I was hoping for someone who’d focus on reaching out. To the Third World most of all, and to members of other religions, too. I’m enough of a realist that I wasn’t expecting a reversal on women priests or gays or abortions or birth control (well, maybe chilling out about condoms in Africa. That would be nice.) but I was hoping to at least not hear as much about sex compared to things like selfishness and debt relief. That if he had to get his papal vestments in a bunch, to do so about war or wealth inequality. I was hoping for someone who remembered that we all need forgiveness and that judging is the work of, you know, God.

But, based on what ol’ Benny did as Cardinal Ratzinger, there’s not so many grounds to think that any of this will be his legacy. I’m afraid of more division and blame. I’m afraid of people leaving the church. I’m afraid of people using the church’s pronouncements to justify their own prejudices and hatred.

But, I’m also not going anywhere. He’s the pope. And, he’s my pope. Next time I go to church I’ll pray for him.

There was a poll in the Washington Post I saw last week, whose headline read “Majority of American Catholics Support New Pope.” And I thought, what the hell does that mean? Of course they support him. He’s the pope. “Support” doesn’t mean “will agree with everything he does.” It also doesn’t mean “would have voted for him if they were men who had decided to become priests who had then become cardinals.” It just means support. This is going to come across as WAY more hokey than I intend it to, but the best analogy I can think of is a family. It’s not a political election. Nobody held a town hall. There weren’t ad campaigns. I didn’t get to vote. It’s like I’m Cinderella and my father just brought home a woman I don’t particularly care for. I don’t have to be happy about it, I don't have to like her, but she’s still my stepmother. Maybe the next one will let more people go to the ball.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Just wondering

Does anybody (or perhaps everybody) else, when reading an article by nouvelle-Caitlin-Flanagan Atlantic parent-book columnist Sandra Tsing Loh, start humming "Tsing Loh, sweet chariot" or am I the only one?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Take me out

As Beloved Fiance pointed out recently, baseball has come to our nation's capital and despite diverting funds from a failing school system and an affordable housing crisis, it's damn good fun.

We went to the game Saturday with the Rockivist (in town from Boston), showing off our glamorous and exciting social life, and it was pretty awesome. Winning is always fun -- one reason I can't really call myself a Red Sox fan -- but the best part, honest to God, was watching the fans.

Keep in mind that this is a Brand New Team. DC hasn't had baseball for decades, so a quick age estimate was enough to ascertain that most of these folks hadn't ever been to a DC baseball game before. And, it's not like the Orioles moved or something; the fan base needed a newspaper handout to remember who the players were and what positions they played. And yet . . .

Fans were fans. Almost like aborigines who learned to moonwalk from watching too much MTV, the Nats fans were cheering, screaming, clapping with the studied precision and dorky abandon of Napoleon Dynamite's big dance number. I kept thinking of the time on Fawlty Towers when the Spanish dude hid behind the giant moose head (you're either with me on this one, or so very far behind), saying "I speeeek Eeeengleesh. I learnt eet from a boooook." We all knew how to be fans. We'd been fans of other teams, in other cities or for other sports, so we knew how to act. There were these three teenage boys who painted their chests with "N" "A" and "TS" (on the most rotund of the the three). These dudes weren't raised with baby Nats jerseys, they didn't grow up with their dads watching the game on the weekend. But there they were, bravely pushing the Wave forward.

As Simone de Beauvoir might have put it, "one is not born a Nats fan, one becomes one." Here goes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Oh yeah, and Britney Spears is pregnant.

Hare-brained scheme #1

So, educators are finally realizing that middle school is a terrible, awful time and that maybe we as a nation should do something about it. Some are proposing school reform while others advocate anti-mean girl therapy, but, really, they could relax if they adopted my not-quite-patented-but-sure-to-be-revolutionary plan for dealing with middle school.

I like to call it "put 'em all on a boat."

I know what you're saying, "You can't put all the middle school students in the country on a boat." Or "That would have to be a big boat," but hear me out.

First of all, middle school is pointless. I'm sorry, all you devoted middle-school-teachers who faithfully read this ever day, but I really don't remember learning very much. Until 8th grade, when we got to Algebra and some cool American history stuff, 7th grade was a lot like 6th grade was a lot like 5th grade. Besides, there will be teachers on board. As the boat sails from country to country, the students can totally learn stuff . . . like navigation and geography -- see how awesome this is? Which brings us to . . .

Second of all, middle school is miserable and self-pitying. Way too much time thinking about self and whether self should start shaving legs or lifting weights or kissing boys or sniffing glue or whatever. And way too much time thinking about whether self is taller/shorter/fatter/thinner/pimplier/more developed/less developed than "normal." Once the middle school students in my plan get on the boat, they travel to different countries. They meet people who are different from them. They get the whole obsession with "normal" out of their pointy little heads because they see so many different types of life and home and culture that "normal" doesn't matter as much. Plus, perhaps seeing people living in a less luxurious manner than we're used to would help get rid of the "Ohmygod, I just want to die because you won't let me shop at Limited Too!" phenomenon. But, you say, they'll still have their boat rides to focus obsessively on themselves. But no! Because . . .

Third of all, they will be joined by the only group capable of rivaling them in stubborness and self-absorption: old people! Now look, old people (or, as I've learned to say, "senior citizens") can be wonderful, kind, funny, awesome folks. And so can 12-year-olds. But, as a group, they tend to be a little, shall we say, whiny and demanding. And what would be better to make them stop obsessing about themselves than giving them a bunch of obnoxious middle school students to fight with (sorry, I mean "learn from")? And how about showing them different countries and cultures? We're always saying, "Oh, in the US, we don't value our elders' wisdom like they do in other societies [to which I always say, look at the average age of a Supreme Court justice, but that's getting a little off track]" What better way to check out how other societies view those on the either end of adulthood than by visiting them?

In conclusion, I'd like to offer a few quick practical tips for any of you thinking of implementing this strategy:

No, they don't all have to be on the same boat. I'd say maybe 25 seniors and 25 middle schoolers per boat.

Trip duration? I'm advocating 9 months, the typical school year. Let 'em slot right back into high school when they're done. Or even come back for 8th grade and just miss 7th.

Boat staff? Well, you'd want someone willing to have a kind of crappy job in exchange for seeing a lot of the world and doing some community service. Sounds to me like a job for a recent college graduate. You could even set it up like AmeriCorps and forgive their student loans.

Anyway, I feel like I've done all the hard work here coming up with this scheme. Now, I just need a billionaire with some spare boats to help make it happen . . . any leads?

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The baby's real, Larissa!!! The baby's real!!!

Maybe it's like this for everyone. Maybe having someone who's in a field you know about profiled automatically renders you incapable of enjoying their in-depth New Yorker spread. Were news anchors everywhere up in arms after the Dan Rather bio? Perhaps. And as far as I know, chefs everywhere go crying into their delicate greens when the Food Issue comes out.

What I do know for certain is that Larissa MacFarquhar's profile of Edward Albee is totally and completely lame. Lame to the point of almost not being worth reading, except that I happen to believe in the cleansing power of the truly awful to remind us what goodness is. Anyway, it's utterly stupid and pointless and shoddy and makes me want to kick her in the face. No, strike that, it makes me want to send Marian Seldes to her home to eviscerate her with withering glances and scabrous asides. Or maybe scabrous glances and withering asides . . . Anyway--

How can it possibly so lame, you ask? Well, we'll start with the big picture and move to the smaller details. Biggest big of the big picture being that I'd be willing to bet nontrivial sums of money that Ms. MacFarquhar has never seen an Albee play produced. I love reading plays more than your average bear, but even I will admit that plays are written to be performed. They are not fully alive until they are performed and, in particular, it is very hard to tell exactly what is going on, particularly in plays (like Albee's) where people lie all the time. Without a production, everyone's lines are just sitting there, and their "truth" is pretty up for grabs. Or, in this case, up for the grabs of a dingbat journalist who picks and chooses moments from Albee's plays to pair suggestively with details from him life. Such as:

In 1965, in the middle of the "Tiny Alice" fiasco, Albee received a phone call from his parents' secretary telling him that his mother was ill and lonely. (His father died four years earlier.) He went to see her, for the first time since he left home. "I hear his voice and it all floods back, but I'm normal," A, in "Three Tall Women" says of this meeting. "Well, hello there, I say. Hello there to you, he says. Nothing about this shouldn't have happened. Nothing about I've missed you, not even that little lie . . . There are no apologies, no recriminations, no tears, no hugs; dry lips on my dry cheeks; yes that."

No A bloody doesn't "say of this meeting." A wasn't there! She's a fictional character! Bad Larissa! Based on his mom, sure. Inspired by his mom, fine. But it's not the same thing.

Do you know how big of a fucking temper tantrum I would throw if anyone ever tried this with me? Some playwrights, yes, they're autobiographical and they say so (although I still think that kind of sneaky elision is crap), but Albee is not a one-to-one correspondance writer. Or, as David Finkle put it in his Theatre Mania review, "Albee is on record as maintaining that he doesn't write crypto-biography. . . he recently claimed to interviewer Leslie Garis, "This play ['The Play About the Baby'] has nothing to do with me at all, except my theory that everybody's reality is determined by their need."

Which brings us to the two central flaws of this piece. Overall, it's poorly researched and redactive for days, but on some big deep level, the writer just doesn't "get it" -- not what Albee's doing and not who he is. As evidenced by Flaw 1:
  • She is way too willing to believe. The best sentence to illustrate this point is the alarmingly stupid one from page 71, "Albee was pampered but unloved." WHAT???!!! This is a biography???!!! Who in the hell are you to ever pass judgment on whether someone is or is not loved? Was he loved in the way that would have been best for him? Looks not. Was he given the kinds of attentions he wanted as a child? Doubtful. But unloved? Come on now, that kind of summary of a childhood belongs in A Series of Unfortunate Events, not a supposedly nuanced biography of a real person. And it's not even "Albee felt unloved" or "Albee believed himself to be unloved" but just a "was." Wanna ask Mrs. Albee about that one?

Which brings us to Flaw 2

  • She is not nearly willing enough to believe, which we see in a sustained summary of what she believes to be the "single theme that runs through Albee's work . . the importance of being open to a full consciousness of life, with all the social and emotional risk that that entails." Big Marian Seldes eyebrow raise to that one, but moving on to how she proves it. Brief capsules of the "illusions destroyed" in Albee's major works, including this one:

    Man and Woman, in "The Play About the Baby," destroy Girl and Boy's fantasy that they have a baby.

    No, no and again I say no! The baby is real, Larissa!!! Don't believe me? Didn't get to actually, ya know, like, see a production with a pregnant woman and a baby onstage? God, that's so time-consuming, I know! Well, how about turning to the
    man himself who said, "It is about a real baby who by the end of the play ceases to exist." The baby is real. And what's also real (and what makes the play so horrifying) is so is the human tendency to trick ourselves to avoid pain. Or, as that guy, what's his name, oh yeah, Albee, put it: "We lie to ourselves. We invent things. We deny things according to what we can tolerate, and this play is another extended metaphor of that."

MacFarquhar is so invested in the story that, ahem, she wants to tell (about the sad little boy who likes to destroy big, bad illusions) that she can't look at the facts (of Albee's life or his work) the way they are. She denies what she can't tolerate and writes a lame-ass profile whose last line unwittingly undermines her entire approach and its simplistic conclusions. Quoting Albee, who said "Once I figured out who I was, whatever care or interest I may have had in where I came from vanished completely--I was indifferent to my past."

Is he "telling the truth" and therefore negating MacFarquhar's entire autobiographical line of reasoning? Or is he "lying" and perpetuating a delusional fantasy that needs to be destroyed, thus negating her other thread? You tell me, Larissa, you tell me.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Good Friday

So it's almost Good Friday, and I've been a pretty mediocre observer of Lent. I mean, heading into the last stretch of Holy Week beaming w/ pride would have been a little weird, but I'm pretty far off the wagon. [total and complete non sequitur: when I was in middle school, I decided that the French translation of "off his/ her rocker" would be "loin de sa chaise" and I still find this uproariously funny.] Anyhoo -- I'm going to try to make it to church tomorrow at noon, but it'll be the first time in longer than I care to admit.

Last weekend was Palm Sunday and I was up in NYC for the production a play I wrote, Burned Over. Seeing the production was wonderful, if exhausting, and I owe Beloved Fiance big time for how much he helped (and is helping out). Actually, let me rephrase that: I pretty much owe every single friend, acquaintance, family member, and colleague/spouse/friend of friend out there. So thank you. A lot. The hope is that this will keep happening (productions . . . plays . . .), and I'm going to ask you all to show up again, so enjoy your free weekends while they last. But, asides aside, I was staying in Brooklyn and the church I would have wanted to go up to was in Washington Heights, and I got to bed at 4:30 in the AM, so, long story short. I went frondless. I'm hoping to do better this weekend, and actually make it up to one-hundred-and-sixty-whatever-the-hell-it-is and attend my dear good friend's church with her. Pray for me and for the subway, and I might have a shot.

This spring is turning out to be so much about rebirth and change as to be almost cliche, but I think if I'm about to head off into some big new self-definining phase in life, it couldn't hurt to check in w/ God on the most important holiday first. Plus, I could maybe wear a pretty dress if the weather holds.

Monday, March 14, 2005

I know U R, but what M I?

Beloved Fiance is out of town (side effects include: more frequent blog posting and no food in the refrigerator), but I'm doing all right, mostly because I've got somebody new to occupy my thoughts and dreams: Isabel Briggs Myers. Sigh. As part of Week 1 of Pre-Cana BF and I had to take the Myers Briggs personality Indicator. I did this once already in high school, as part of a leadership seminar or some such thing (I ran the gay club, which, if I were more of an egomaniac really would have been called "Friends of Dorothy" . . . but I'm getting ahead of myself here). Back then, I was an ENTJ (Analytical, logical, and objectively critical but w/ danger of becoming abrasive and dictatorial). As such, I took the test and was mostly annoyed at the implication that I was supposed to use it to help get along with those inferior to-- I'm sorry, I mean "differently-personalitied than"-- me.

But now, softened by getting kicked around a little in a university and spending the past three years of my life working with little kids, old people, and teenagers, I have emerged as an ENFJ. Feeling now trumps thinking and I'm (ya know, according to the test) warm and imaginative with a tendency to worry, feel guilty, and doubt myself (again, I'm just saying what the test booklet tells me.)

Due, I believe to a combination of my F (feeling) and N (intuition) sides, I now love the Myers-Briggs test. I read the booklet every morning at breakfast. Having long since memorized my own description and that of BF (a "sensitive, introspective, and complex" INFP), I'll just sit and read about other personality types. Do I know any ISTJ's? How about ENTP's? I've tried to back-diagnose my family and friends and will start using these descriptions in regular conversation. Actual transcript from talking at work w/ a friend today: "Yeah, I mean, and I'm not much of a J, but I'm more J than P, you know." This was about buying a washing machine.

Anyhoo . . . I'm certifiably nuts about this whole thing. But, you know, it's probably just because I'm "highly attuned to others." Right?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Baby Mama Drama

Listening to too much radio yesterday because of driving too many places, I probably heard Fantasia's song "Baby Mama" at least three or four times. "B-A-B-Y M-A-M-A." If you've heard it, it's in your head now. On WKYS, my favorite radio station in DC, the song was almost always preceded with call-ins from local single mothers, expressing their thanks to Fantasia for performing the song, and I got to hear a bit of an interview with her, explaining why she chose to sing it. And, I can't decide if I like it or if it creeps me out or both.

Urbandictionary defines "baby mama" as "The mother of your child(ren), whom you did not marry and with whom you are not currently involved." In all of their sample sentences, it's a word to be used solely by men. In the tradition of "queer" and some other words I don't feel comfortable typing, Fantasia's reclaiming a word for a group traditionally used to demean them. Instead of the phrase"my baby mama" coming from a man's point of view, she sends her song "out to all my baby mamas." What's more, the song's encouraging -- offering sympathy for the limits of paternity support and the difficulties of being a single parent. So far, so cool . . . and yet. . .

Here's when I kick in to being a horribly conservative Daniel Patrick Moynihan/ Dan Quayle knockoff. I mean, I don't clearly. For one thing, no bowties. But I can't completely get behind a song that says, "Nowadays it's like a badge of honor/ To be a baby mama." I want to be supportive of everyone and their choices, and I'm certainly not recommending we bring back the Scarlet A, but it's tough shit to be a single mother. Or to be raised by one.

The stats are depressing. The majority of black children in this country now live outside of two-married-parent families. And, without trying to explain why or finding somebody to blame, I think that's got to be hard and that it's a problem. Not impossible, not set up to fail, and of course, not worse than living with a terrible husband. But it's hard.

Reading plays last month for the Young Playwrights' Theatre contest, I couldn't help but notice that the vast majority of the plays written by high school students in DC were about mothers and fathers who did not live together. Some were from the perspective of children of divorce, who shuttled between their mom's and dad's house. Some were from the perspective of children who never knew who their fathers were, until one day they dropped by to visit. And some were about teenagers, who had children outside of wedlock and were figuring out how to share parenting. The phrase "baby mama" came up more than once. The prospect of getting married was raised only once in one play, as a joke.

And then you throw into this world, a song about baby mamas on the one hand and an article about celebrating the pregnant bride on the other, and I don't know what's helpful and what's harmful. Fantasia said in the radio interview that 13-yr-old mothers come up to her at concerts and tell her thank you for making the song. Which I guess is good, and it's good that she's a role model of successful single motherhood, but still . . .

In the end, I think Fantasia gets the last word. Quoting Nietschze, she tells all her baby mamas,
"Remember: What don't kill you can only make you stronger/ My baby mama." True? Perhaps. But nobody should be satisfied with a childcare situation that gets compared favorably to murder. That's not saying a hell of a lot.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Interview

So, as maybe most of you, maybe most of you who are out there (Are you out there? Hello? Am I an exhibitionist or a hermit? Maybe a hermit with a glowing neon sign saying "Hermit Inside" on the front of my grotto.) Anyway, where was I? Right. As maybe most of you know, I had an interview at a scary, prestigious drama school this week for their MFA playwriting program.

I was a bundle of nervous nerves the whole month beforehand (I have, I'll admit, a pretty bad case of "I know I failed THAT math test"-itis), but the day was finally here. I'm leaving Tuesday afternoon on the 5pm Vamoose bus, only to find out at 2pm that Vamoose has conveniently cancelled its 5pm bus. So, I change to a 6pm Chinatown bus -- so far, so okay. Beloved Fiance offers to meet me at the bus station with a sandwich because he's wonderful like that and I make it onto the bus. Bus unexpectedly stops in Philadelphia, adding another half hour or so to an already-delayed trip. But that's still not too bad . . . I get off in Chinatown, walk to the subway and make it up to 168th St by around 11pm. Have some cold pasta and bounce off the ceiling with anxious energy with Catherine and her friend Heather until around 1am at which point everyone retires to bed, couch, or floor to sleep. Except that I don't sleep. At all. It's not too bad because I'm not unhappy, just totally wound up and incapable of sleep. I think of lots of different things and eventually start to notice the way the sunlight comes into the room in early morning. I am not a(n?) habitue of early morning. Get out the door by 7:30am, enjoy the morning rush to school and work and make my way to Grand Central Station. Where the one train that I am taking is the one train whose gate is not listed. With coffee and doughnut in hand, I wander from sign to sign, from computer to mechanical wooden lists and nothing. Finally find an information booth and inquire as to which gate I need. Make it on the train and luckily someone has left a Wall Street Journal, which is secretly my 2nd-favorite newspaper, aboard. Score! Read the Journal, make it to New Haven, and make it to a delightful lunch w/ two friends from college. One of whom spends lunch telling me his take on difficult admissions decisions: "Basically, they should just take the top 25 people and have a lottery. It's not like getting in means anything about your being more qualified than anyone else." This is both comforting and discomfiting.

Go to interview which is fine, I think, but it's an interview and you can never tell and what did that last thing he said mean and maybe I shouldn't have talked about exhibitionists on the corner in trenchcoats and prostitutes and reading the Bible cover-to-cover (all true). Have tea w/ a couple friends before leaving town, everyone is super-sweet and understanding and hand-holding to me, and I'm feeling good, if starting to get chilly, when my cab pulls up to the train station 5 minutes before my train takes off. I reach for my suitcase. And it's not there. Just not there. I let the cab go and then run dementedly after it, wondering if my suitcase might be in another part of the backseat. The cabbie finally stops and lets me check. There's not another part of the backseat. It's just, you know, a backseat, and my suitcase simply isn't there. So I run back to the train station, calling the restaurant where I just was on my cell phone. I check the departures list and make it onto the train, while trying to orchestrate the successful retrieval of my possessions. Take a deep breath and call BF to tell him about suitcase fiasco. As we're talking, the conductor comes to take my ticket. And he looks at my ticket. And tells me that I'm going in completely the wrong direction. I have missed the 5:45 train to Washington, DC and am now heading north to Old Saybrook on the commuter line.

It is at this point that I start to cry.

Around 6:30 we pull into Old Saybrook, a town, I would like to point out, whose train station does not sell a single magazine or newspaper (my book, of course, being in the suitcase left at the restaurant). At 7:45, the next train to Washington, DC pulls into the station and, with no books to read and only a copy of the Amtrak magazine "Arrive" (whose title mocks me from its little string holdy-case -- "If only I could arrive, 'Arrive!' If only I could!") I pass the hours until 2am. At which time, the train pulls into Union Station. Beloved Fiance comes to pick me up, and I get a good 5 hours sleep until Thursday morning when I have to wake up and teach my 3-5th graders how to write a play.

This story is either a sad story or a funny story. I didn't know which one until yesterday; now I know it's funny.

I got into the grad school.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Tim McGraw, Master of Paradox

At first glance, Tim McGraw seems pretty comprehensible. Big hat, blond wife -- the country equivalent of Nick Lachey minus the reality show (for now). But the dude's complex, and I think the forces that are fighting for his soul represent the conflicts in country music today. Perhaps even the conflicts at the heart of America! (see how easy that was? Everyone should have a blog. Oh wait . . .) Back on the soapbox: Do we move forward into an unfair and ambiguous world or do we romanticize the troubled past? Only Tim knows for sure.

Exhibit A: Tim McGraw's unbelievable song "Red Rag Top." I've only heard this song on the radio once, in the car this fall, driving through Rock Creek Parkway on the way from one job to another, and I almost had to pull over in the parking lot because I was sobbing so hard. This is the single best pop artifact I've ever heard about abortion (take that, Ani DiFranco), and it's even more amazing given the strident and uncompromising language that usually characterizes the pro-choice/pro-life debate. In brief: the narrator of the song recounts how he was a teenager and got his girlfriend pregnant. As he puts it,

I was out of a job and she was in school

Life was fast and the world was cruel
We were young and wild, we decided not to have a child.

And that's how it goes. They don't descend to a fiery hell-pit. They aren't even consumed with horrible regret every moment of their lives. They are very young and take one of the options available to them. And it's a really hard choice. And their relationship doesn't survive it. From everything I know personally about teenage couples who choose abortion, this seems pretty damn accurate. Best decision in a hard place? Maybe. Gonna mess with your emotions? Let's hope so. This is pretty much the same position taken by Hillary Clinton in her January speech, which, btw, was lauded as revolutionary. It's now being echoed by Andrew Sullivan. And Tim McGraw said it first. (I also have a long and fairly boring thesis involving a close reading of the visual imagery in the title, doing my best imitation of a New Critic, but this post is too long already. Basic point = this song is genius.)

And now that we see what complex heights Mr. McGraw is capable of, I bring you to Exhibit B: "Back When," his current hit song (played about 100 times a day on the local station) a dismal piece of pap that snuggles up way to closely to racism for its popularity to make me comfortable. The general gist of "Back When?" Well, it's that the narrator misses a simpler way of life, before life got so "complicated." So far, so understandable, if a little boring, given the surge in this kind of nostalgia in country these days. And then we get to the chorus:

Back when a hoe was a hoe
Coke was a coke
And crack's what you were doing
When you were cracking jokes
Back when a screw was a screw
The wind was all that blew
And when you said I'm down with that
Well it meant you had the flu
I miss back when

Let's parse a little, shall we? What, exactly, bothers this narrator? A series of double-entendre slang words, most of which come from and/or pertain to what we now like to call "urban" communities. Is crack really a problem for you, sir? Crystal meth, I'll believe, but crack? I doubt it. And ho's? Well, did you object "back when" they were called hookers? Finally, come on, "I'm down with that" -- at best you're a curmudgeon, Narrator-Man, and at worst you're pining for a world in which your vernacular (and, by extension, your worldview) was white, white, white. It's not too far a mosey from "I miss back when" to Trent Lott's infamous remarks about Strom Thurmond. Why can't we just avoid the problems we're having now, McGraw's song asks, why can't we go back to that simpler place in time (when, you know, segregation was legal)?

In conclusion: Do I think all Southerners/ country music fans are racist? Hell no. And I'll hurt the face of anyone who says so. Do I think Tim McGraw is racist? I highly doubt it, and not just because of his hypnotizingly repetitive duet with Nelly. Which is exactly what pisses me off about this song -- it's pandering to a base, in the worst way. Selling one thing by tacit inclusion of another, especially for someone who's as capable of complex emotion as I'd like to believe Tim McGraw is . . . well, it's a big, stinkin' cop out. The wind is not all that blows, sir. Your song does, too.

Snu Part Deux

It's snowing again, outside the window in the dark, discernable only in the streetlights and by the windshield wipers of cars.

It's been going on most of the day, and I think it's supposed to continue into the morning. No matter many years it's been since I had a real, for-real snow day (8 I think), I still get excited by the thought that snow automatically brings the promise of undeserved escape, a last-minute pardon by a celestial governor because, well, he felt like it. Although now that I teach a couple days a week, I can still get out of going to school, if not work. The Montgomery County annoucement goes up at 5am tomorrow -- I don't think I'll be checking it that early.

Had a really good yesterday. Except for the skipping out on church part, I actually did all of the things I think you're supposed to do on Sunday. Like, the ideal Monday involves a really good breakfast, and the ideal Friday involves doing something crazy with friends, the ideal Sunday would be my yesterday . . . well, there wasn't a newspaper. Okay, with a newspaper and minus the UNBELIEVABLE INSANE TOOTH AND CLAW PANDEMONIUM THAT WAS THE LAUNDROMAT, the ideal Sunday would be my yesterday.

Today, not bad, not great. Work was totally fine -- snow seems to make things less urgent, if not less necessary. But then I got my first rejection letter tonight from a grad school, and I'm still sort of processing it. I knew this would happen -- I had certainly prepared to be rejected from some if not all of the schools I applied to. But still. Ouch.

Character building, right? Of course right.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

NYC . . . is the worst song in "Annie"

Still recovering from a whirlwind trip to New York this weekend. It was all for the good . . . I was there to see the first read of my play Burned Over and it was great to meet the actors and hear everything read out loud. If a little (no, a lot) freaky. When stuff works well, it's hard to remember that I wrote it (I finished my final draft about 6 weeks ago, I think) and when stuff doesn't work so well, it's hard to know if it's something endemic to the script or just the jitters of the first read process. Anyhooo. . . the cast is amazing, but I can't help but feeling like I dropped my developmentally disabled 4-year-old off at a summer camp for prodigies and any day now, they're going to send her back home, with a well-meaning note pinned to her chest. I also wish I was able to be in the room for more of the rehearsal process. In some ways, it'll be good for me to come see it cold and have all kinds of moments of surprise at things I didn't know were there, but still. I think I could learn a lot of valuable stuff by listening to actor questions and director answers. And verse vica.

I was also blessed with the best spur-of-the-moment digs in all the boroughs, so thank you so muchly, o beautiful & inexpensive house in Brooklyn. If you must belong to someone who is not me, thank goodness you belong to someone who will let me sleep there.

Saw Boozy on Saturday night and was reminded of hours spent in improvised musicals about Chairman Mao. Too bad nostalgia's for suckers.

And, finally, experienced the famous Gates on Monday, which were there in all their no-of-course-it's-orange-and-not-saffron-for-Christ-sakes glory. This and this are way better takes on them than I can do, but suffice it to say, it's an amazing spectacle to see everyone out in the park, and each individual gate looks, well, pretty lame. Also my feet were soaking wet and freezing (as were Beloved Fiance's), so we had a less transcendent time than we would have in proper rain attire. We were also stuck in front of a very intense conversation about competitive dog shows.

In conclusion, Vamoose bus gets you there more or less on time and with hokey tearjerker movies. But you do get to buy your tickets from a guy with peyos, who shouts "Vamoose! Vamoose!" as you approach the bus. Oh, the big city.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Million Dollar Bullshit

[SPOILER ALERT -- if you live under a rock and don't know the end of this movie, for Pete's sake, don't learn it from me]

All right, I'm admitting from the beginning that I haven't seen the movie. And, usually, I have negative patience for dimwit nimrods who pontificate upon works of art they have not yet experienced. (For example, having strongly dismissive opinions of Jane Austen, based on only reading the Calvin Trillin criticism, as in
Metropolitan. Or that guy in section. I hate that guy.) But, all the hooplah about Million Dollar Baby was making me many different kinds of angry, and I had to do something.

So I went into Borders and read the short story that the movie was based on. And now I will pontificate. Consider yourselves warned.

Pontificating point 1: O pundits, how easily ye be swayed by your punditry. Folks on the right (and handicapped activists) have been freaking out about the fact that the film ends with a paralyzed person being killed because she no longer wants to live. Rush Limbaugh calls it the "Million Dollar Euthanasia Movie" and decries its "liberal propaganda." Meanwhile, folks on the left are mystified as to why this could bother people and mock the outrage. Frank Rich puts it up there with the faux-outing of SpongeBob. Now, again, haven't seen the movie and maybe there is a big chorus of cheerleaders saying "Kill, kill, kill!" but, based on the book, I doubt it. To say it's "pro-euthansia," to the point of advocating that all handicapped people be killed seems like stretch. F.X. Toole, in the story, makes a point of mentioning that the other people in the facility where Maggie lives are "happy" and want to keep living. Just not her. On the other hand, would it destroy Frank Rich to say that, yes, killing is in fact wrong? Really wrong. Like, not okay it's so wrong. Cultural relativism, schmultural relativism -- killing people = wrong. If we're still arguing over this, we can call the 2008 election now.

Pontificating point 2: Have a practical system in place to back up your outrage. If you're an anti-euthanasia, pro-life Republican, what the fuck are you doing cutting the funding for social programs that will take care of the handicapped and children? Pro-life and anti-Head Start just makes my head spin. Likewise, pro-euthansia, pro-choice Dems, have some sympathy for the fact that not everyone who's worse off than you would rather be dead or not have been born at all. There's a pamphlet in the back of the church where I went for Ash Wednesday labeled "Planned Parenthood's campaign to kill black babies." Do I think it's true? Of course not. But I think focusing only on how oppressed the oppressed people are isn't working. And it's offensive.

Pontificating point 3: Has no one noticed they're all Irish Catholics? This is a religious movie! The writer, the girl boxer, her grizzled old trainer -- all Catholic. Clint Eastwood, with that name, somehow I doubt it. But the story has pretty explicit religious themes down to the point of having the trainer visit a priest to discuss his plan to kill Maggie. He goes to confession knowing he is about to commit a mortal sin. And then he commits it. Maybe I'm just a fruitcake, but this seems to be the simplest explanation of the fight that the pundits are having. Rush is saying "But killing people is wrong!" and Frank is saying "But he just made a choice and who are we to judge?" And the story says, simply, he sinned. And, as best as we can tell, he would do it again. Whether there's a heroism to sacricing your mortal soul to follow your friend's wishes is a debate I'm really not going to get into until I see the movie, but I think it's a hell of a lot more interesting than the debate that's going on.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

But will it make The New Yorker?

From yesterday's New York Times corrections dep't:

A pop music review in some copies on Monday about the Grammy Awards broadcast misstated the title of a song performed by Alicia Keys. It is "If I Ain't Got You," not "If I Can't Have You."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

You can be the president, I'd rather be the pope

Another Valentine's Day come and gone with the usual griping about the greeting card-industrial complex, and the usual quite nice exchange of said greeting cards. The best thing about this Valentine's Day, however, may happen to be a present I bought for myself. I finally purchased Prince's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 and have been deliriously happy ever since (although our upstairs neighbors might be wondering what happened to the all Fat Day and Mountain Goats). I had been avoiding purchasing the album for a couple years now, despite knowing how fantastic it is (vastly superior to Greatest Hits Vols. 1 and 3, for those keeping score), but this Sunday in the Atlanta airport, I succumbed to the lure of the AltiTunes. (I also got my mom The College Dropout. Mom, if you're reading this, go put your CD on. I promise you'll like it).

Anyhow, I was weirdly cagey about buying Vol. 2 because way back in college, I had borrowed it from a then-boyfriend and held onto it in a weirdly talismanic way as we struggled through a pretty disastrous breakup. As I recall, I finally gave the CD back to him at the end of the year, as I was packing up my stuff for summer storage, but it still felt somehow like "his CD." Not that we had a whole montage of poignant relationship memories set to "Raspberry Beret" (we didn't) but that he had introduced me to the breadth of the Prince oeuvre and it felt like cheating somehow to hold onto that knowledge after our relationship was over. A little-discussed question in the etiquette of twentysomething break-ups is whether or not you get to keep your ex-boyfriend's taste in music. Unsure of what Carloyn Hax would say, I opted for no.

But there I was in the AltiTunes store and there Prince was in all his paisley glory. Maybe it was the fact that I'm getting married in 7 months. Maybe it was just generally growing older and having college fade into the background. Maybe it was the approach of Valentine's Day. Whatever the reason, it was suddenly okay to own the sweet, raunchy fabulousness of Prince.

So, Ex-Boyfriend, thank you for sharing Prince. Thank you for pointing out the song "Pope," knowing that it would appeal to me, as I do, indeed, want to be the pope.
Thank you for letting me keep your CD until I was ready to say goodbye. And Happy Valentine's Day, wherever you are.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Yeah, about small towns in the South . . .

My grandmother's still in the hospital. My mom and I flew down Thursday night to visit her and have been checking in during visiting hours ever since. Yesterday morning, she was doing great. Today a little less so. Her wrists are restrained because otherwise she pulls out the tube going down to her stomach, but she's not too happy about the confinement. Have I mentioned yet that she's fiercy independent? Fierce like she got into a fistfight with the nurse when she tried to change my grandmother's bandages. Fierce like she doesn't think we should be staying at the hotel we're in and was busy trying to get us to move. Fierce and almost 90 years old and not keen on being tied down. Hopefully, the restraints can come off soon.

The most amazing thing about being down here isn't the hospital though, or the doctors and nurses, or even the bizarre task of filling a day in a waiting room. It's the people who have come to take care of her. To put this in perspective, my grandparents moved to this town about 35 years ago, and I have been getting phone calls ever since we showed up from people offering to help. Folks have been coming by her room, visiting, and some family friends drove in this morning for a 24-hour visit from 2 states away. None of these people are family; none of them have any particular "obligation" to her, but yet here they are. One man called yesterday and said, "Your grandparents were so kind to us 30 years ago, and I just want to be able to help out." What?

I know this town isn't paradise, and if Alabama elects Roy Moore as governor it may cease to qualify as a democracy, but I can't help but be touched by people's kindness. Would I stick my neck out to help an old woman who once did me a favor decades ago? I don't know. Where do my boundaries of helpfulness end?

I guess the answer is to keep on doing people favors now and hope at least some of them remember.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


I promise the next post will be about fashion week or something, really. Marc Jacobs is the Wes Anderson of clothing and I'll explain why in 250 words or less, but right now, meh, it's Ash Wednesday, I've got a smudgy forehead, I've been fasting, and have had an emotional rollercoaster of a past 2 days.

The combination of some very good news (on a totally personal front) and some pretty bad news (grandmother in hospital, should come out fine, but still scary, esp. as she's in Alabama w/ no immediate family nearby) has left me quite woozy. Like I got drunk on emotion or something and now I'm left with the headache and regret.

You gotta love the Ash Wednesday reading, btw, if only because they tell you right up front to be guilty about what you're doing. Entire point of Gospel reading: "Don't go around parading the fact that you're doing good or that you're suffering. If you really want God to like you, deprive yourself in secret." Day's entire activity: "Get smudged by a priest so you can broadcast to everyone you bump into, 'Hey, I'm a practicing Catholic and I'm repenting today! Dig it!'" Absolutely unreconcilable. Especially on a half-empty stomach, that I'm actually not even supposed to be talking about.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Darwin loves me, this I know

So I was reading Arts & Letters (like you do) and came across this piece by Natalie Angier talking about raising her daughter to be an atheist. And it seems that in a very Takoma Park way they're having a lovely time in their atheist household, and I have no plans to walk the 15 minutes it would take me to get to their doorstep and try to convert them. Freedom of religion includes freedom for the lack of religion and I think atheists should raise their children whatever way they want. In fact, I'd probably side with a passionate atheism over lukewarm "I guess we should go to church now that we have kids; here have an Easter bunny" religiosity, but the piece got on my nerves and I may have finally figured out why.

Now, to her credit, poor old Natalie is on the defensive. Raising your kid to be an atheist in this day and age has got to be difficult at times, even in Takoma Park. But in order to bolster her point that you can raise a great, atheist kid, she quotes her own 8-yr-old daughter on subjects like death and God. Here's a sample:

First I asked her if she believed in god. She crinkled up her nose at me like I had mentioned something distasteful, like spinach and liver, or kissing a boy, and said, No! I asked her if she was sorry she’d been raised as an atheist, and she said no, she liked it. I asked why. First, she said, you don’t have to waste Sundays going to pray. Also I’d rather do things myself than have somebody else do them for me. If somebody gets sick, I wouldn’t just pray to god he or she gets better, I would try to buy some medicine for them, to help them get better.

Cool. Great. Totally logical. Have we mentioned that the girl is eight years old? Eight year olds believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus (if they're raised to) and the totemic power of Hillary Duff (even if they're raised not to.) The fact that your 8-yr-old thinks God is like spinach proves exactly NOTHING about the benefits of raising an atheist child as compared to a religious one. Certainly not, as Angier argues, that "raising a child as an atheist, or a committed secularist, is the right thing to do
." Not "a right thing to do," mind you, but "the right thing to do." Slow down a minute on your tolerance wagon, there, Natalie.

Now, to give her credit, those of us who believe would probably say God is
sometimes a lot like spinach, and sometimes a lot like kissing a boy. And sometimes like none of the above.

I don't fault Natalie Angier's daughter for thinking this way about God, but I'm annoyed (or maybe by now just bemused) at the credence Angier assigns these words. I shouldn't be surprised anymore by things like this, but the whole piece reminds me of nothing so much as ministers who quote their children on Sunday. "Little Johnny once asked me if the money we take up in the collection plate goes to God so He can buy things," the preacher says and the congregation all goes "Awwwww." The mystery of belief becomes easier through a child's eyes, and so, apparently does the project of atheism. Angier says:

When I tell my daughter why I’m an atheist, I explain it is because I see no evidence for a god, a divinity, a big bearded mega-king in the sky. And you know something – she gets that. She got it way back when, and I think once you get it, it’s pretty hard to lose it.

I don't know how hard it is to lose atheism. All I know is how hard it is to keep faith. Oh yeah, and that eight-year-olds are, um, children, and will keep wrestling to find answers to the big questions no matter what their parents tell them. My prediction, for the record, is that the kid turns out Ba'hai.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Pretty pretty Princess

You know when you have those hunches that no one else understands, and you're left talking about them using only dream logic and the language of synesthesia? "Doesn't this car commercial remind you of marshmallows?" or "Wouldn't it be amazing if people had dorsal fins? And the other kind of fins, too?"

Anyway, I feel this way all the time about people reminding me of other people and am usually greeted with blunt denials -- "No, he doesn't" -- or dubious humoring -- "I can kind of see it. Around the eyes." Yesterday, however, I emerged victorious after venturing that a very good friend whom I haven't seen in several years (isn't it bizarre that I'm old enough to write that?) reminded me of Princess Ann Claire from Love is in the Heir. I was greeted with squeals of approval, nods of recognition, and even a few rounds of "Exactly! I thought the same thing!" Very Good Friend herself has not yet seen the show, but, after having been compared repeatedly to a princess, I hope she starts watching.

By now the "I'm ashamed to admit it, but I have this reality show that I love" confessional has gotten pretty worn out, but I have to throw one last log on its smoldering embers. Love is in the Heir is a great show. Really. And I'm not just saying that because my friend looks like the princess. See, it's about this princess (who, although the show doesn't dwell on it to the point of not mentioning it at all) is fascinatingly half Iranian and half British. And she lives in LA, where she speaks with a hard-earned American accent, although she still throws in Britishisms unawares. And she has this personal assistant, who's totally preposterous (except for in that one episode where she had two personal assistants, and one of them was named Baz. That one was the best.) And she is allegedly kind of dating her former personal trainer, Ritchie, except he has probably the worst hair I've ever seen and seems markedly uninterested in her. The Ritchie stuff is pretty terrible. But the best part of all is that she wants to be a country singer.

Some people (such as my Beloved Fiance) have pointed out that this show might be what they call "fake." And I'll admit that some of the gambits probably weren't entirely the participants' ideas. But I do believe wholeheartedly that
  • Princess Ann Claire is actually a princess and her family is actually royalty of some sort.

and that

  • She does actually want to be a country singer and wrote all those lame country songs herself.

And that's enough for me to care about the show. She really, really wants to be a country pop star, enough to drag herself off to Nashville and make a huge, horrible fool of herself in front of all these music executives. Maybe this is just coming from a particularly insecure place in myself, or maybe I'm just sick of watching people's heroic rises to the top, but there was something beautiful in her pure, hopeful mediocrity that spoke to me.

I think, perhaps, at the end of the day, that's what America has to offer. We don't have dynasties or Crown jewels or Cinderella balls, but we are a country where any schmo with a couple spare million dollars and a dream can parade around on television chasing it. Would I let someone make a TV series called "American Playwright Idol" about my quest, banking that the exposure would be more valuable than the inherent exploitation? Probably not. I can't stand to watch videos of school plays from 5th grade, so I don't think I'd do so well on TV. But something makes me respect those who are willing to put themselves out there for a shot at greatness.

Godspeed, Princess Ann Claire. And you, too, Very Good Friend. May your dreams come true, with or without the Pahlavi dynasty to back them.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Whose cow?

I told a good friend about this blog (raising the age-old and raised-to-death question: if a blog falls in the Internet and nobody reads it . . . well, you know) and she wanted to know who Gotomo was and why I had his cow, which makes me feel like I should explain the title a bit more. So here goes:

Senior year of college, I directed a production of Three Sisters, which now strikes me as unfathomably bold or extraordinarily stupid. But, at the time, I was obsessed with the liminal state in which the three sisters found themselves and the degree to which they brought it upon themselves with all their educated angsting. Fast forward 3 years and I'm cozily ensconced in my own self-inflicted threshold and looking to stay there for, well, at least a few more months. I've applied to grad school, but am dour about my prospects of getting in, and overeducated, immobile angst fills at least 20 percent of my daily mental space. Hence, "I want to go to Moscow!"

We had t-shirts made for the Three Sisters cast and crew (marketing is one of the things about this show that I remain proud of -- especially the ads featuring the girls of Full House and The Brady Bunch) that said "Are we there yet?" on the front pocket, and that's sort of how I feel these days. I know I should appreciate each day as it happens, and there's actually quite a lot of great stuff going on in my life, but still, I'm itching to know what happens next. When I was younger, I would always make my mom explain the plots of movies before we watched them: I couldn't handle the stress of not knowing how the story would end.
Once I knew the end, however, I could kick back with the popcorn and actually enjoy the show. (Full disclosure: I still try to make Colin do this if we're watching a movie he's seen before. He refuses, though. Something about "ruining the end" or some such nonsense.)

And that's pretty much what's going on with my brain these days. I bug Colin and my mom and my friends to tell me how it's going to end, convinced that once I know what's going to happen in June I'll be way better equipped to handle February, and they say "Shut up and watch the movie."

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Enemy Attacks!

That's the title of one of my playwriting students' plays. The Enemy Attacks! How great is that? Just in case you're not sold yet, it's about a piece of broccoli, a piece of celery, their respective imaginary friends, and the evils of veggie dip. And it ends in a wedding performed by a tomato who's also a priest (or a priest who's also a tomato, depending on your perspective).

Typing up all of these (what I'm avoiding right this very minute, thanks) is making me want to do nothing so much as add in narrators, vegetables, animals, time travel, and dream sequences to whatever I write next. Not that it'll be as good as my students' stuff, but as their teacher, I should at least be giving them a run for their money, right?

Really. They're all geniuses. Narrators! Who knew?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Pitchforks are for Devils

So, if everybody's a critic these days, we might as well populate the cottage industry that is critiquing the other critics. Pitchfork's list of the 100 Top Songs is just lame. And bad for relationship harmony, as it will necessarily cause long fights that ultimately resolve in "Oh, I guess I just didn't like that song as much as you did. Sorry."

Anyhow, in the interests of greater harmony and better snobbery, Beloved Fiance and I are now presenting the First Annual Inaugural "Holy Shit, I'm So Happy They Put That on the Radio in the Last Five Years" Awards. Now, you know where to put the pitchforks, people.


"Stan" -- Eminem
When I first heard this song, I literally had to get off my treadmill. The real kind of treadmill that you run on. Because I was so freaked out at the juxtapositions -- wispy British vocals, suicidal protagonist, and the unbearably post-modern worldview posited: "My rapping character is a creation of symbols. Whither reality?" Eminem was being fought by a lot of different people when this album came out. With this single, he not only defeated his critics, he shamed them. Derrida's heir, dude, Derrida's heir.
The amazing thing is not just that the Stan character is more fucked up than Slim Shady (saying alot after the previous track "oh god now he's talking about raping his own mother, snorting coke, abusing whores, and we gave him the Rolling Stone cover?"). Stan's is also really human, which makes this song still really scary. And remember when Eminem performed the song on stage at the Grammys with Elton John? Dude went a long way in a few months, and sadly I don't know when he's coming back. "Lose Yourself" is killer, but everything since has been meh, though he's still good at the confessional/realism thing (like the new Toy Soldiers song--bad production, amazingly vulnerable words).

"H.O.V.A." -- Jay Z.
Can't really say what about it. Maybe the introduction. "...You could be anywhere in the world..." I should be smarter if I'm going to write about it. The whole tune is in the pocket. And was a revelation to me--I didn't know acting totally gansta would get sold so well. But damn does this song sell it. Best moments with this tune: played over halftime at a international soccer match in Gillette Stadium. Ticos from Nueva York and literal soccermoms from Duxbury, heads bobbin' everywhere.

"Gossip Folks" -- Missy Elliot
With her rapping on this song, Missy proved that she could get away with anything.

"Cry Me a River" -- Justin T. et al
Alex Ross did it first and did it better, so I'm left with a world of ditto, but suffice it to say that when the pretty-boy frontman of an Orlando pop band suddenly shows up with a soaring string section, a vindictive chorus, and sludgy-yet-hummable production by Timbaland, well I consider it worldview-shattering. Add the backstory about Britney and that man-slut Wade the Choreographer, and get even more zeitgeist splinters.
I like this song, I'm sure, but I kind of get bogged down when I think about what to "say" about lil JT. This entry can represent my favorite things about JT in the past 2 years: the fact that he personally pulled off Janet Jackson's boob-cover and yet seems to not be remembered in that incident (but when will we hear "Rock Your Body" on the national scene again?), and his amazing impersonation of the beardless 1/3 of the Bee Gees.

"Chop Suey" -- System of a Down
How freaking weird is System of a Down? How did anyone put them in the same camp as Limp Bizkit?
One day they will fulfill the promise of the "Jesus Christ SuperSatan" midsection of this piece and perform a full-length rock opera about the Armenian Genocide. Until then, we can only sit back and do what our tapeworms tell us to do. Pull the tapeworm out of your ass! Hey!

"Travelin' Soldier" -- the Dixie Chicks
Most of the time, when I hear a song on the local country station that involves soldiers, I turn off the radio and bang my head soundlessly into the steering wheel. But this song actually dares to tell a story, and tell a sad one. Granted, it was written before we went back to war, and it takes place during Vietnam, but it can put a boot in Toby Keith's ass any day of the week and twice on Sundays. It's a sad, sweet love song about a girl and her soldier, but the most haunting image is also the most shocking. In the final verse, the heroine finds out the boy is dead with the line "and one name read and nobody really cared." After all, this is a boy who writes to this girl, not because they're dating but because, as he put it, "I got no one to send a letter to." So, there's the fiddle break and the delicate harmonies we come to expect from the Dixie Chicks, but buried in there is a message way more threatening than "I'm ashamed to be from Texas": when you're killed in a war, maybe no one will care.
Wow. I never have heard that song. It sounds really good and sad. PS--don't tell MediaUnbound, Inc. that I never have listened to that song.

"All Falls Down" -- Kanye West
Why oh Why do would most critics rather talk about Slow Jamz? Yes, that song was funny, but this song is about something. I think it's the flagship song on the album. No gimmicks, not even the Jesus gimmick. Dorothy's going to be better at this than I am. Buckle down, because I'm sure it's going to be... uh... thorough...
Communism's dead. Socialism's flagging. And those skinny weirdos who put up the LaRouche signs aren't accomplishing much of anything. But somehow, under everybody's noses all at once, a Chicago producer released the most lucid and bracing critique of contemporary consumerist society and in particular tied it to three centuries of racism and the legacy of slavery. THIS IS TOP FORTY RADIO, PEOPLE! Nobody, and I mean nobody, has made these points (linking the desire for flashy consumer goods to a lack of sense of self than comes from being historically 3/5 of a person) more trenchantly. Not scholars, not newspaper columnists, not Al Sharpton, and not Spike Lee. Oh yeah, and the song's three minutes long. And it's funny. And it rhymes. Switching from a fictional female character (who "couldn't afford a car, so she named her daughted Alexis," for those of you not quite as obsessed with this song as I am) to the collective "we" (who are "trying to buy back our forty acres") and then back, self-depricatingly to himself ("we're all self-conscious, I'm just the first to admit it"), Kanye West exposes and explores purchasing as a necessary form of ersatz self-esteem. And people were singing along to it in clubs for months solid. Larry Summers fired Cornel West for releasing a rap album. If he had any brains in that puffy head of his, he'd hire Kanye West for the same offense.

Other entries not yet discussed include "Why" (Jadakiss) and "Ms. Jackson" (OutKast).

Perhaps more will come later.


Sunday, January 30, 2005

Goddy Goddy God God

So, here it is, another Sunday and I haven't gone to church. Again. Not the biggest deal ever, but still, I wish I had gotten my butt down to Georgetown, scrounged for a parking place, and gotten me some communion.

I could maybe count reading "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" as a semi-spiritual experience, but I think that's a bit of a stretch. Especially since Dorothy Day's getting on my nerves so far. At this point (about 100 pages in), I feel confident that Flannery O'Connor could easily kick her ass. I mean, I symphathize with her whole "O, I want to be a Catholic, and O, I want to help people" deal, but she still seems like she has a big, juicy crush on the underclass which frankly weirds me out. Poor people are certainly not any eviler than their rich counterparts, but it seems just as offensive to categorize them wholeheartedly as more pure. IMHO, the assessment that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, etc. is more of a practical consideration than a comment on the inherent worthiness of the impovrished. Of course it's easier for rich people to sin more. They have all that money to sin with!

Anyway,I think this outburst is also related to seeing "Black Milk" at Studio on Wednesday. Basic plot summary: these two young modern capitalists from Moscow go into the countryside to trick the hapless peasants and sell them crap toasters. City people: evil, heartless, money-obsessed. Country people: uneducated, pure, love babies. Just before the climax of the play, our formely shallow heroine asks her hubby if they can stay in the countryside to raise their just-born kid. Because, you know, people in the city are such bitches, and people out here with their latrines and their bathtub vodka are so generous. Hubby says no, violence ensues, denouement.

Which is the same position that, in a way, Dorothy Day seems to be taking: "Well, I had this great life where I read Dostoyevsky and partied to dawn in the Village, but the people I really envy are those peasants over there." I know I'm no expert here, but all the peasants I ever met just wanted to go to New York City and go shopping. Which, frankly, is a lot of what I'd like to do, so I'm certainly not judging them or trying to be snarky, I'm just sick of romanticizing the indigent and using it as an excuse to feel sorry for yourself because you're so goshdarned privileged. And this is why I like Flannery O'Connor because she sees the grasping, desparate, charlatan in everyone regardless of social class, as well as the universal hunger for grace.

Goals for today were (when I went to bed last night, or to be fair, this morning): fill out the FAFSA and clean the apartment. The apartment's looking better, but I haven't touched the online forms . . Maybe I can just send in a picture of our gleaming bathtub.

Mmmm, snu

First kid: Wow, I just came in from all the snu out there. Man, I've never seen so much snu in these parts.

Second kid: Wait, what's snu?

First kid: Not much. What's new with you?

Ha ha ha.

Anyway, it's snowing outside something beautiful, and I'm watching the teeny-tiny tree outside our window get blanketed.

Oooops, Beloved Fiance just made pancakes. I should go eat them.

No, seriously, I was actually going to do some complaining in this post, but now that just seems mean.

Happy Sunday, world.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Always the last kid on the block . . .

To get around to what the cool kids are doing.

So, here goes. Inspired by spending a way too-big portion of today reading Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother blog, I figured I might as well get my own. It seemed easier than emailing a woman I've never met, and having to say things like, "Uh, I read your husband's books. I mean, you know, the famous ones. Except for the new one about Sherlock Holmes. That seemed weird."

Plus, there's this guy named Whetstone out there who keeps thinking the same things I do, and now I'll have empirical proof that sometimes I said so first.

Ayelet, in brief: I'm totally on your side about abortions, Caitlin Flanagan, and "Mommy Dearest" memoirs. But, for pete's sake, stop bashing the red states. Seriously. Talk to Whetstone about this one. It's petty and ignorant and mean. Love you!