Monday, April 30, 2007

Temp Job

We went up to my mom's house this past weekend; Krissy was turning thirty and we celebrated it in the traditional manner, with the shaking of the groove things. You can bet your bippy I'll be mining this trip for more than one blog post, but for now:

"Just to warn you," Jill told me when we were on the front porch. "We have a bird there." I looked over and there she was, a fat, gray dove sitting in her eggs. When she blinked, you could see that her eyes were rimmed in what looked like blue eye shadow. We named her Trixie. "Mike and Erin talk to her."

Generally I'm not a big nature fan. Camping sounds like punishment (hey, let's walk around with baggies of used toilet paper!), and the last time I went hiking, I was most awestruck by the man-made dam. But I inexplicably liked having Trixie there. I talked to her, mostly when I was with her alone. You're a sweet mama, I said. Look at you, soft girl.

I've been feeling a little burdened lately. Not anything in particular, just the cumulative effects of adulthood. The dishes will have to be washed again, the laundry done, the work started, kept up with, finished. The elderly Mac will keep having problems. Someone will have to dream up another week's worth of dinners.

It occurred to me that part of the charm of Trixie's residence is that it's temporary. Long-term, I'd worry about what she was doing to the post she built her next on, the bird poop, the endless extra burden of maintenance. But this weekend, I just enjoyed looking at her.

Part of my quest brought me to this idea that we should all live in the moment, that it's all temporary, and we should get our kicks while the getting's good. There's only so far I can embrace that, to be honest. But maybe this is why people get all fired up about nature, to get that glimpse of the temporary, even forgoing hot showers to do it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Everybody's Linking for the Weekend

The fabulous Catherine Newman wrote a column about the various grades of joy. It's some good stuff. One of the things she brings up is getting so happy that you cry. I'm not sure that's ever happened to me. (One time I laughed so hard, I got hysterical, but given that it was over a picture of my sisters and me, in which were wearing sweaters with matching berets, I think it's understandable.)

Have I pointed out that Catherine, Jenn Mattern, and I will be reading together in June? Can I guarantee it'll be a good time? Oh, I think I can.
If you're keeping up with the issues from the Polemics for Parents post, Leslie Bennetts responds to the NYT article.
In a prose rut? Barbara Card Atkinson is having a haiku contest. There is a prize.
Speaking of the tickling of the funny bone, here's a little something for fans of teen culture, the occult, or rap battles of the fiercest nature. Yes. Top that.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Can I Get a Witness?

So, I've been thinking about the whole loneliness and commuting thing some more, how people are sealed in their cars by themselves for at least an hour a day, and how that contributes to unhappiness.

Do you think everyone being hermetically sealed in their houses with the A/C on has a similar effect? Maybe I spend too much time at home, but it occurred to me that in the spring when we can have the windows open, I feel more ... well, connected isn't the right word, but maybe in the midst of the community. There's something very woman-in-the-village in being able to hear a neighbor's baby cry, or some kids skateboarding in the parking lot, or the soccer game at the end of the street.

More to the point, it's entertaining. Brandon and I lived for three whole years in a crummy apartment with dark wood panelling throughout and Rice-a-Roni-colored shag carpet. One summer night we came home and listened to the downstairs neighbor, who was outside with a guy and the radio. And apparently some alcohol. She was singing.


Oh, my God, we loved it.

My neighbor (different one, different neighborhood) told me last year that, in the middle of the night, a car pulled over in front of his house and a couple got out to argue. (Because you don't want to argue while driving?) "Why won't you let me love you the way I want to love you?" the man kept asking the woman. This seemed like a novel couple's argument to me: permission for method of loving.

I haven't heard anything really entertaining in a while, though. There was a bird last year that kept squawking in an oddly cheery timber at night. He sounded ready to party. It was no drunk-woman-Boyz II Men, but you take what you get.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Polemics for Parents

Did you see this piece in the New York Times? It's about why polemics about motherhood and work don't sell so well, even though they garner mucho buzz.

You have someone in the article saying that mothers are afraid of reading these polemics because it hits too close to home. You have someone else (a mother) saying that she just doesn't have the time. You have the ever-present "mommy" noun, as if these readers aren't adult women who are partially in charge of the next generation.

It seems to me that this shouldn't be such a big mystery: People don't like to be condescended to.

I saw Leslie Bennetts (author of The Feminine Mistake) write in the Huffington Post, "Maybe some of them [stay-at-home mothers] will even reconsider their choices and start making more sensible plans for the future than relying on the blithe assumption that there will always be an obliging husband around to support them." Caitlin Flanagan, as talented a writer as she may be, is well-known for making snarky sound bites out of complex issues. Linda Hirschman offers up impractical suggestions like marrying younger men who will take care of the kids. (Is anyone asking for a do-over?) The one writer cited whose book has sold well is Judith Warner--and it's not an accident that she writes as part of her audience.

The sort of reader interested in work and motherhood has probably already read Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood, which is painstakingly researched and offers structural changes to big issues that won't be solved by simply going back to work or simply staying home.

(In fact, it's a rare bird that is the exclusive "working mother" or "stay-at-home mother." Most of us are one or the other at various points, not to mention the gazillion part-timers out there with a foot in both worlds.)

I want to feel a sort of camraderie, or at least respect, from the author when I'm reading. I don't like to be told what to do. I like an attempt at balance. I like, at minimum, acknowledgement of complexity. This is why, even though I'm a liberal, I'm interested in what conservative Adrian Wooldridge has to say, but not what Bill O'Reilly has to say. We "mommies," as they say, are well acquainted with the phrase, "Don't scream at me."

Seriously, I can get chastised--did I pack PB&J again? did I kiss him in public? did I yell, "Good job, sweetie pie!" at his baseball game?--for free.

In Which I Gush

Yesterday, I got an email from Kristin Ohlson, whose writing has long knocked my socks off. She's the author of Stalking the Divine, a gorgeous book about cloistered nuns and Kristin's own investigation into finding faith and peace. You might have also read her work in magazines--the lady is prolific.

Anyhoo: Some exciting news! She co-authored Kabul Beauty School with Deborah Rodriguez and it's going to be on the New York Times bestseller list this Sunday. For real--number ten!

Sometimes, I have to admit, I look at bestseller lists and I wonder many things. Who are all these people who pony up their hard-earned money for, say, a politician's memoir? Does every household in America really need a copy of You: The Owner's Manual? Would it be wrong to change my last name to Sedaris?

Refreshingly, I don't have any questions here. Read this post ("The Pungent and The Sweet") or this essay (it's a PDF), and you can see why I, for one, would buy anything with Kristin's name on it. Rock on, lady.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Blast from the Past

I don't know why I did it. I think there was an ad or something on a website, and I clicked. Anyway, I found myself at the website, and I signed up for a free membership which, as far as I can tell, gets you access to a list of names of your former high school colleagues, in case you lost your yearbook. That, and some time killed so as not to work.

I clicked on the name of a guy I once knew. Alphabetically, his name is in my neighborhood. Back then, he was cute and interesting and we (stupidly, in hindsight) had a thing going the year before I met Brandon. When I clicked on his page, there was no further information. I realized too late that I neglected to uncheck the box that let him know that I had visited his page.

This was maybe a few weeks ago, and life went on, with the baseball practice and the eating out and the writing the blog and the canoodling with the Brandon and the chatting with friends and the regular life.

But doesn't want regular life to go on, I discovered. wants you to get in the way-back machine to when you were all too well-acquainted with thick eyeliner and the John Hughes oeuvre. I started getting emails from Classmates. Frequent emails. Don't you want to know who's looked at your page? Don't you want to see who else has signed up? There are PICTURES, Classmates wrote. The "if you know what I mean," was implied.

Last week, I caved. Classmates told me that three people had viewed my page, none of whom had left their names. I figured one of them had to be the guy whose page I looked at (if you saw someone's name, you'd probably click on over, right?), so I looked at his page again.

He'd updated it. And I'm only exaggerating a little bit when I say Marriage was the theme of his updates. Marital staus? Married. Have children? Yes. You know, with HIS WIFE. What does he enjoy doing? Marital things. Meaning, things having to do with the MATRIMONIAL UNION OF WHICH HE IS A PART.

I'm egocentric enough to think all this is directed at me. (Besides, few people are doofus enough to forget to click the box that removes their name.) At first, I was offended. Jesus. Okay. I get it. I wasn't looking for a hook up.

Later, I got a kick out of thinking about how he imagined my adult life. Did I actually seem like the kind of girl then whose magnetism was SO POWERFUL that he feared that I'd email and that he'd consequently become helpless in the face of it? That I was such hot stuff that I was actually dangerous? (I know--poor me, with the low self-esteem.)

Finally, though, I wondered, What I would have put on my questionnaire, if I'd done it? Probably that I was married. Probably that I had a child. Probably that my favorite thing to do is hang out, wherever, with this family of mine. There's a statute of limitations on details, I think; you can't sum up fifteen-plus years, or at least not without boring the people to tears.

What I would have written is really just one type of shorthand for: People love me. I have people to love. I'm doing all right. Carry on.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Take a Break, Driver 8

What with all the book learning I've been doing, I nearly fell behind on my periodical reading.

Have you read the piece in The New Yorker on commuting? Very, very interesting, I thought. According to the writer Nick Paumgarten, "the number of commuters who travel ninety minutes or more each way...has reached 3.5 million, almost double the number in 1990."

He chalks this up to urban spawl (I think housing prices have something to do with it--maybe that falls under the umbrella of urban sprawl), but in any case, the commute affects quality of life.

Commuting makes people unhappy, or so many studies have shown. Recently, the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and the economist Alan Krueger asked nine hundred working women in Texas to rate their daily activities, according to how much they enjoyed them. Commuting came in last. (Sex came in first.) The source of the unhappiness is not so much the commute itself as what it deprives you of. When you are commuting by car, you are not hanging out with the kids, sleeping with your spouse (or anyone else), playing soccer, watching soccer, coaching soccer, arguing about politics, praying in a church, or drinking in a bar. In short, you are not spending time with other people. The two hours or more of leisure time granted by the introduction, in the early twentieth century, of the eight-hour workday are now passed in solitude. You have cup holders for company.

When I was writing the book (and a couple years prior), Brandon was commuting about two hours each day. We used to live closer to his job, but the town we lived in was just not a good match for us. I made a total of four friends the whole seven years we lived there (one of whom is Lauren!). We moved over here, and while it greatly improved the quality of our weekends, the commute started wearing on my man.

On his end, it apparently wasn't very fun to leave the house when it's dark out and leave work when it's dark out. On my end, it wasn't very fun to have to cook dinner every single night. (It was that or eat at 7, and we're simply not European enough to eat so late.) It all became very Hello, exhausted husband! Have some frozen pizza!

Last summer, Brandon got a job in town, and this pleases us very much. He commutes five minutes, fifteen if he rides his bike. He comes home for lunch every day. Our frozen pizza consumption is greatly reduced.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I Believe I Can Fly

Did you ever suddenly find a huge, gaping hole in your self-image? You're looking at yourself in, say, your Sophisticated Lady garment, then you turn and find that, whoops! There is an exposure problem.

This happened to me recently. I tend to think of myself as pretty adventurous. I eat raw oysters even in months with no "r" (pretend it's Ju-Ry! Aurgurst!). I'm not afraid of a fight. I often overschedule because I don't want to miss anything. (This is the sort of self-image you get when you grow up with the phrase "Lady of the Eighties" in the zeitgeist.)

But I recently got my travel itinerary for the book tour, and I realized that I know very little about travel. I mean, I know enough not to wear a fanny pack (frankly, that's basic common sense), but I haven't been on a plane in years.

I called my mom, who is also not a traveller. "I wonder what items we're not allowed to bring on the plane," she said.

Lighters, we knew. Also, lotion.

"What about medication?" she said.

"I don't know what terrorists would do with medication," I said, although I also don't know what terrorists would do with lotion. "Nobody move! I'm going to REGULATE YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE!"

"We're going to alleviate everyone's HEADACHES!" Mom said.


I do have that feeling in my gut, though, that's halfway between excited and nervous. I'll see the Pacific Ocean for the first time. On the other hand, I'll have to figure out how to get from Albany, NY to the Berkshires. As the trips draw closer, I'm beginning to see, as Stevie Nicks put it, my Gypsy. She's the one with the nervous smile and the hand sanitizer.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

People Helping People

Part of my quest involved helping others.

This Friday, I'm manning the karaoke machine for the first shift of the Spring Fair at Caleb's school. The fair provides a whole lotta cash for the PTO which, in turn, funds a goodly portion of enriching activities, like trips to the Natural Bridge--one of the Seven Natural Wonders!--for the students.

I got an email recently from the Spring Fair coordinator, asking if anyone would be willing to lend some karaoke CDs to the cause.

Oh, I have the CDs. Have I mentioned how much I love the karaoke? Let's just say I practice. Let's just say that if you think you can do a more stirring rendition of "Total Eclipse of the Heart," than Brandon and I do, then turn around, Bright Eyes. I'm ready.

But let's also say that I'm a little bit nervous (a little bit TERRIFIED?) that the karaoke volunteer work won't go smoothly. Because the last time I worked with children and the karaoke, it went something like this:

Caleb and my niece: [Staring at the screen, mumbling words]
Caleb and my niece: [Staring at the screen, mumbling words as the chorus builds]

It's true that they're family and that's why I can talk to them like this. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to control myself at the Spring Fair, but I'm also pretty sure I'll have to leave my personal collection at home. Most of it is eighties stuff, but the one that the kids might know is probably inappropriate.

For our anniversary, Brandon got me a karaoke CD of newer songs, mostly for the two tunes, as the CD jacket phrases it, "made popular by the Killers." Other than those songs, there are about fifty songs that I've either never heard of, only know the chorus to, or are heavy on the salty lyrics. You haven't heard middle-class, suburban girl until you've heard me on "Drop It Like It's Hot."

And on that note, and on a tip from Jenn, check out Gizoogle, if you're so inclined. It translates web pages to Snoop Dogg speak. Apparently, I wrote a bizzle `bout tha two years I spent blunt-rollin' self-help advice in orda ta become a betta, shot calla person. The PTO would so not let me volunteer if they knew that.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Items of Note

Oh, people of the super information highway, I love you. Ask and you shall receive! (I don't mean that in a The Secret kind of way.) There are so many good stories of capable teenage mothers. See this post by Barbara Card Atkinson, for example. Or comments on Dawn Friedman's This Woman's Work, especially Lisa V's and Katerina's.

Although you can skip the first comment. This commenter believes that certain women shouldn't have children, although she's not suggesting anything extreme. Something reasonable, I imagine, like a conversation in which she approaches a poor and/or young woman. "Hi. Just wanted to let you know that I'd prefer you don't have any children. I'm not suggesting anything extreme, just, you know, that I don't think you should be allowed to be a mother. And you should listen to me because I THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN."

I'd like to be there for that conversation.
Part of my financial quest was to learn about investing in the stock market. (The idea is you feel secure about your old-age cash flow, you'll be happier.) The whole deal made me nervous, living as we do in these post-Enron times.

I saw an article in the paper this morning about a study: The researchers found that there's a "strong correlation" between where CEOs live and how the stock of their companies do. "The bigger the CEO home, the worse the company's stock fares," says the AP article.

Quelle coinky-dink? Not so much. "Home purchases could be a ruse. If you are going to dump stock, you can buy a house to cover your tracks," finance professor David Yermack was quoted. The median price for a CEO's house is more than $2.7 million, with about 5600 square foot floor space.
Every once in a while, I get into a mild tizzy about what important conversations we might have neglected to have with Caleb. We were lounging on the couch last week when a commercial about Drugs came on. "Have they talked to you about drugs at school?" I asked him.

"What are drugs?" he asked.

"Oh, we can talk about it some other time," I said, quickly putting the worms back in the can.

We had sort of a two line conversation about drugs later, but neither one of us seemed particularly interested. Then the other day he tells me, "You know, I thought drugs were a kind of furniture."

Sure you can sleep over--we have plenty of Drugs! Don't jump on Mama's and Daddy's Drugs! Young man, you sit on your Drugs until you can behave politely! I can see where he got the idea.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Dreamy Teens

I had a light topic in mind today for the blog. This morning, I'm in the shower, thinking, Oh. I'll write about list-making! Which is related to organization! Which is related to part of my quest! It will be witty! And pretty! And bright!

But then I'm having my tea and reading OPB (other people's blogs), and I come to Dawn Friedman's This Woman's Work, and she has a post about a teenage mother in Ohio who arranged for her four-month-old baby to be adopted. It was arranged by her high school guidance counselor and an adoption agency; her parents weren't involved in the decision, and, in fact, the mother was told to run away so she could give up custody of the baby. According to the article, she now regrets her decision.

And you know what? My heart just sank, lower, lower, lower, until it was muffled by my guts.

If you've been reading Brain, Child for a few years, you might have read the feature I wrote about teenage mothers, using the stories two teenage mothers in particular, my sisters Erin and Jill. I'm not in the business of judging other mothers, but I just wished that this news article about the teenage mother in Ohio didn't exist. Just as I don't like to hear about older mothers stumbling in huge, irrevokable ways, I don't like to hear it of teenage mothers, either. Actually I hate it worse because it just confirms the shitty stereotype of teenage mothers (incapable, waffling, rash, irresponsible). My ladies have had enough push-back to deal with.

I know how news works, and I know this is a story that interests a lot of people. It has issues a-plenty: adoption, birth mothers' prerogatives, minors' rights, parental consent, runaway teens, baby-snatching.

But I wish every once in a while, there might be a story that shows the ordinary magic of teenage mothers. The teenage mother who bites her tongue and ignores a certain holier-than-thou attitude so her son can form relationships with people he should. The teenage mother who accompanies her daughter's class on a field trip and winds up giving her lunch to a kid whose thirtysomething mother forgot to pack one. The teenage pregnant who sit alone in the cafeteria, who go to school through morning sickness, who drag their bellies to prenatal classes without any mate.

I don't mean to imply that good motherhood always means sacrifice or that we need any more martyrs. It's just that teenage motherhood is always held up as taking the easy way out, an act of the lazy--an act of the selfish brat who thinks she can handle raising a baby. I submit that this is bullshit.

Over Christmas, I was up at my mom's and we were all being goofy. Jill took pictures of me taking carbohydrates out the fridge. She took pictures of Brandon smelling the roses. Krissy took pictures of Jill walking down the street, looking as if she were avoiding the paparazzi.

Jill's daughter looked out the living room window and saw her mother out there. She immediately put on her shoes and grabbed her purse. She threw on her jacket, the one that looks like Jill's. I need to get in on this action is what her face said.

What I'm saying is that the kids of teenage mothers are watching. They'll see if their mothers get, as Aretha puts it, a little respect. They'll watch to figure out if they deserve some respect, too. There is a song about this.

All right. I'm off the soapbox for the weekend. Sock it to me.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Crystal Balls

Years ago, my mother and I went to see a fortune teller at the beach. I was 15; she was 38. I was thrilled to be going. I owned two paperbacks on palm reading and a few others on Being a Leo. (Why I was so into my horoscope, I have no idea, especially since Leo is known to be the Bitch of the Zodiac.)

To my mother, the fortune teller described that there would be two significant men in her life: one younger, one older. Although the younger one would be fun, the older one would be the lasting relationship.

This was the sort of news that a person likes to hear. Specific. Promising. A little sexy.

This is the fortune I got: "You're a good girl. And you try very hard."

You think? I'm fifteen years old and hanging out with my mom at the beach. Of course I'm a good girl who tries very hard.

Why does this stuff fascinate me? (It still does. I can watch John Edward's Crossing Over all day long.) I don't believe in destiny, that you can look at my palm or read my aura and find that I will have x number of kids, a mate two months older, and my death will come when I'm a healthy old lady in my sleep. (Knock wood.)

But, if the project taught me anything, it's that I also can't believe 100% in self-determination either. You can't just throw up your hands, but surely, there will be the unforeseeable, I'm convinced. It's not destiny but chaos.

I've been thinking lately about this $5 fortune. Could it have been some sort of Ocean City koan? You're a good girl (destiny). You try very hard (self-determination). Goodgirl, tryhard, goodgirl, tryhard, around and around.

I wonder what we would have got for $15.
If you are the artist Alison Elizabeth Taylor, would you email me? It's jennifer at Thanks!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I Like the Way You Work It

When you read a lot (or even a little) of self-help, you notice that everyone has some sort of catch phrase, some bit of prose they intend to their readers to take as a credo. This is my very least favorite: "No food tastes as good as thin feels."

First. You have clearly not tried Brandon's smoked salmon and my potato pancakes with a dollop of sour cream.

Secondly, this credo feels a little too Scarlet Letter for my taste. Every time I read it, I imagined some sad acetic kneeling in a small, darkened room, hairshirt folded over a hard chair, clutching a small whip. No food [WHIP ON THE BACK] tastes [WHIP] as good [SMACK] as thin feels [WHIP, WHIP].

But undeniably, exercise is good for the mood, good for the heart, a good bet for a healthy old ladyhood. As much as I wish it were a conspiracy by the Evil Dieting Consortium of Misogynists, I'm pretty sure it's not.

For a long time, I thought that I might stumble on my true exercising love. I laced up ice skates, envisioning myself confidently gliding out on the ice to the center of the rink, executing a perfect triple axl rose. I once purchased an exercise machine that required its user to lift her own weight. I hit the racquetball court, completely unaware that I would, within the half hour, wind up hitting a ball directly into my face. I'm the Lucy and Ethel of exercise.

It took me embarrassingly long to discover this: Most people who exercise don't like it. When they say they like exercising, they mean they like the feeling that comes after exercising. I have a friend who swims regularly; she told me that every single time, she hates getting in the water. A friend who plays soccer tells me that it's a real pain in the ass to get to her games. Even Ms. Oprah claims she hates her regimen with the personal trainer every single day.

There should be some kind of credo here, a sort of Exercising Inspiration for Pessimists. Maybe: Suck It Up! Or: I Promise This Will Be Over in Thirty Minutes. Or: No Exercise Feels As Good As the Moment You Stop.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Talking in the Free World

Do you think I'm smiling? No. I'm only kind of smiling. The kind of smile you give when you are seventeen and have braces years after your peers because you didn't wear your retainer (due to the incessant slurping it forced you to do). The kind of smile you give when you wear all black (you are clearly SERIOUS) yet are forced to have a "merry" day in the Baltimore Inner Harbor. The kind of smile you wear when you are seething, almost ALL THE TIME, about your Constitutional Rights As a Teenager.

Can you be happy without a full set of Constitutional Rights? No. You can only grimace. That, and, in my case, drink raspberry Snapple.

I might have been interested in the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression's Muzzle Awards. Particularly number 13.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Matter Regarding Jesus and the Sunbeam

Over the weekend, I read Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. At least two people have told me (in not so many words) that I should read it, but I'd been putting it off because it's a book about a quest for inner peace and I didn't want to accidentally lift any ideas from it.

Holy areole, the woman knows her Eastern spirituality. A third of the book is about her time at an Ashram in India, and she does an amazing job of making that accessible. I'd been concerned. The first part is about her stay in Italy; you can talk delicious food to me all day. I'm down with that. But when you start talking about reaching a higher plane and having a Guru and chanting in Sanskrit, my tendency is back away, quickly, to the world of synthetic fibers and small talk about real estate. But I got all wrapped up in Gilbert's story. I was humbled by the breadth of her knowledge and commitment.

Particularly on Sunday when Easter rolled around, which we celebrate in a basket-and-chocolate sort of way. This year was different: In the morning, after The Holy Ingesting of The First Peanut Butter Egg, Caleb leaned up against my lap and asked, "Why do we celebrate Easter again?"

"Well, you know who Jesus is, right?" I asked. When I was his age, I could have come at you with the Beatitudes and most of the major parables.

Caleb nodded.

"And you know Christmas is when Jesus was born?"

You could see the wheels turning. "Ohhh," he said. "So Easter celebrates when Jesus's mom got pregnant."

Friday, April 6, 2007

A Very Charlottesville Post

So I went up to New Dominion this week to order Happiness: A History, and, as usual, I wound up with a stack of other books. One of them was Love Is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield; the cover looked cute, and I'm a sucker for a memoir.

The book, which is structured around various mix tapes, is about Sheffield's five-year marriage to Renée Crist, her sudden death, and his life after becoming widowed. There are definitely some lines in there that made me stop and reread, so lovely were they. ("You lose a certain kind of innocence when you experience this type of kindness. You lose your right to be a jaded cynic. You can no longer go back through the looking glass and pretend not to know what you know about kindness. It's a defeat, in a way.")

It's a good read in its own right, but for me, it was also sort of strange palimpsest of a book, too. It takes place in Charlottesville in the early- to mid-nineties. What Sheffield writes about--up until Renée's death--is the same stuff that I lived through. I knew some of the same people, I went to the same clubs, Brandon and I would drive around the same country roads with the music on, for lack of anything better to do. I found out later (because it's the sort of book that triggers my why-you-gotta-end-it? impulse) that Renée, under the pseudonym Jo Cline, was the music critic for the same paper I worked for.

I recently found a box of letters from my first year of college that I didn't know I had. There were ones from my parents, ones from my high school friends, a particularly cheesy Christmas card from a guy, and others, including an unsigned one. I have no idea who penned it. Reading Love Is a Mix Tape was sort of like looking through that box. The Charlottesville of the mid-nineties doesn't exist anymore, any more than eighteen-year-old me does, but it's sort of mind-blowing that reading can still conjure up what it felt like then.


So, Charlottesvillians. I'm going to be at two events in the city here in May, and I'd so love to meet you in person. (If I already know you in person, don't worry--you'll be getting a harrassing email from me!)

On May 12, I'll be at the UVA Mom Expo with Stephanie, and we'll be talking mostly about Brain, Child.

On May 17 at noon, I'll be at New Dominion by my lonesome, mostly talking about Practically Perfect.

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Hit It

I know that there are pleasures out there that I'll never get. I'll probably never stand at, say, a NASCAR race, with the wind in my face and the engine roar in my ears, and think, "Now this is the life."

I know this is what makes us all different and isn't that wonderful and blahdee blah, but it's also sad to me, in a way, when I consider some things that do bring me immense pleasure that just aren't available to other people.

Doesn't that sound condescending? Yeah. I know it does.

But take music. I love me some music. I love what happens to my heart when I hear Pavement, "Tell me off, in the hotel lobby, right in front of all the bellboys, and the over-friendly concierge." I love singing along with Modest Mouse, when Isaac Brock goes, "We are the people that we wanted to know, and we're the places that we wanted to go." We have a David Byrne in concert DVD, and I just sort of collapse with yearning when he covers "I Want to Dance With Somebody." And don't get me started on the whole They Might Be Giants oeuvre.

I literally can't get the feelings that I get from the music I like anywhere else. It's not just the lyrics, although the above ones are excellent. I love how the guy taps out the beat on the video for "Fergilicious." (I know, I know. This is the second time I've linked to this video, the third I've linked to Fergie-inspired fare.) For a long time, I got chills listening to the opening of "Ice Ice Baby." I make Brandon triple-tongue on the trumpet for my own enjoyment, and I'm not even trying to be dirty.

I think what makes me sad is that the particular songs that I love aren't a universal experience, and trying to write about these songs is always going to be limited by the fact that there's no sound to writing. A while ago, McSweeney's came out with an issue (an installment? they seem bigger than "issues") with a CD you were supposed to listen to as you read it. But although I liked the CD (TMBG again) and I liked the McSweeney's, it didn't work for me, as an experience. They're two separate things, and the closest I'll get to being a musician is, if I can be so immodest, my motherfucking rocking karaoke rendition of "Pour Some Sugar On Me."

I know the non-music fans are thinking, "Don't cry for me, Argentina." (That is, if the non-music fans also happen to be literate in musical theater.) But I have to believe that there are people out there who feel for me in the same way, the NASCAR fans, the Renaissance art appreciators, the horse riders, the golfers, the knitters.

Let us hold our lighters up now, for the pleasures that other people will never know.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Snakes and Doughnuts

I had a dream the other night that a stranger came up to me and said, "There's been an accident. It's ... The Internet."

Let's put aside for a moment the Passions caliber of my subconscious. What would be the proper response to The Internet's accident? Should I have offered to feed The Internet's dog while The Internet recovers? Maybe water The Internet's plants? Bring a lasagna to The Internet's family?

I don't know what this dream means, and I'm glad I wasn't doing any of this psychological stuff in the heyday of Freud. Sometimes a melodramatic dream about the www is just a melodramatic dream about the www.
Confidential to my fellow banger: Check this.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Klickitat Street

The ass, she is dragging today. I stayed up until midnight watching I Love New York, the VH1 show starring New York, the woman from two seasons of Flavor of Love.

There's been some talk, mostly regarding children, about whether TV works like a depressant. I'd make the case that it depends, on what you're watching, how long, who with, what mood you started out in. All I know is when New York went swimming in Mexico with the dolphins, with her big fake hair and big fake eyelashes, and she caught a faceful of water, and she said, "That son-of-a-bitch dolphin splashed in my face!"? Mucho enjoyment.
I'm always amazed that people can write about money in an interesting way. There's Liz Perle's Money: A Memoir, and on Sunday, I saw a series in the Washington Post about some D.C.-area folk who are trying to meet their financial resolutions.
As Whitesnake once wondered, "Is this love ... that I'm feeling?" so one can wonder about happiness. Defining what happiness is is surprisingly tricky. You could write a whole book on that subject alone.

As it turns out, someone already did. Darrin M. McMahon makes the case in Happiness: A History that happiness on earth is a relatively new concept, and that pleasure being part of happiness is an even newer idea. I'm looking forward to reading this. I Love New York has a reunion show, but until then, I believe I'm free.

Monday, April 2, 2007

The Old Daunt

For those of you with geo-trackers on your websites, you might know my secret already: Charlottesville, page refreshed 298 times. I'm a little bit obsessive about checking for updates on other people's blogs, particularly when I'm trying to avoid doing some work of my own.

What I'm saying here is that, okay, I like to watch. Participating--in terms of leaving comments, responding to comments, having the online conversations--isn't my forte.

A week or so ago, Heather Annastasia (who makes me wish I had a deeper knowledge base so I could debate her on certain subjects) left a comment about dauntingness. I sat in front of the monitor for twenty minutes, trying to think of something to say in response. Because the whole concept of something being daunting seems pretty integral to a quest for happiness. Or at least a good reason why someone might pick up a self-help guide in the first place.

I rewrote the beginning of the introduction to the book many, many times. How many times? So many that I have a whole folder of anecdotes that didn't work. The thing about Caleb and the urinating turtle. The thing about Oprah. The thing that two out of three readers agree makes me seem like an alcoholic. And more! (Maybe I should package them into a book: Story Starters for Grown-Ups. Or: Beginnings for Those Who'd Rather Not Commit to a Whole Book. Or: The Corner and How to Write Yourself into It.)

Anyway, I think I had a hard time with the beginning because I find it very daunting to explain exactly what my motivations are. Why did I want to become a better, happier person? Because I just did, okay? And because...doesn't everybody?

Maybe there're people out there who have good answers for their motivations, who think things through to the very end of reasoning before they do them. Me, if I do that, I'll certainly choke. The buying of a house, the launching of the magazine, the getting of the pregnant ... all decided over a few beers. The big picture is more often than not scary to me. I don't want to see the gazillions of ways things could go wrong because, frankly, I don't need that kind of pressure.

I think most of us get over the dauntingness factor by focusing on the things we know how to do. I'd never, say, raised I child. But I could cook; I could change a diaper; my pets were still alive. And this squares with one expert I used, who suggests that we all focus on our strengths, not worry so much about our flaws. It seems like some sound advice to me.
I know. You've been hankering for more blatant self-promotion, haven't you? Well, here you go: Yesterday, the editors at the Washington Post's Book World listed Practically Perfect as one of the most anticipated non-fiction books of the season.

Did you ever get so excited you get all shaky and weird and possibly frighten your child? (WATCH OUT, MAMA'S GETTING FREAKY!) Me, too.