Wednesday, August 29, 2007

And Another Thing!

I know. Two posts in one day? Wild woman.

I’m working on getting the Brain, Child name out there more. I’ve been working on the magazine for close to a hundred years now, and I sometimes can’t believe that there are people who haven’t heard of it, but, you know, new mothers are made every day and all that.

One idea I had was to send a copy of the magazine to people who blog. If there’s something in the fall issue that inspires a post, excellent. If not, no harm, no foul.

The fall issue should be out in the next couple weeks, and it looks mighty good. There’s a terrific, thoughtful essay by Dawn about doing her African-American daughter’s hair and the significance of that. Tracy penned a feature on the death of the soccer mom (i.e., backlash against the married woman voter with kids.) There’s an essay by Adrienne DeAngelo called “Two Lesbians and a Eunuch” that I love, love, love. Plus, various content about assisted reproductive technology, parenting with OCD, Kindermusik, how colleges treat students who are mothers, parenting a jock, and more.

Anyhoo, if you want an advanced copy, let me know, either by commenting or dropping me a line at Jennifer at, and I'll pop one in the mail as soon as I get them.

Community Center

Five years ago, you probably couldn’t have convinced me that there was a huge benefit to belonging to some community. As P.W. Herman once said, I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel. As my time in Harrisonburg taught me, I can entertain myself perfectly well in my own home, what with the books, Internet, card games, drinking, etc.

We moved here four years ago and, thanks to especially my neighbors Julie (hollah!) and Steve, we became part of this friendly, close-knit neighborhood. It doesn’t require much effort, really. A couple weeks ago, Brandon and I sat on the porch with some beers while Caleb showed the other kids his new jaw harp. One thing led to another, and at eleven o’clock, there were five of us in the living room, shouting along with the karaoke machine. Oh, the suh-uh-uh-mer nights. Good times.

I think what I dreaded about the idea of community was the small talk. (Do you that Kids in the Hall sketch in which the punchline is “I’m just not good at small talk, you prick”? I just spent twenty minutes on You Tube, and it’s not there. Damn.) Anyway, part of my quest in PPIEW was to get better at making casual friends, which sometimes involved small talk. It was draining.

This morning, I opened the paper and there was my neighbor Ed on the front page. He’s working on a book about dog fighting, and they had a Q&A with him. I like Ed immensely anyway, but I had no idea this was his latest project. Just read this quote:

Q. What is one thing that might surprise people about the history of dogfighting?

A. One surprising thing that I found out was that sometimes fighting dogs were matched up against monkeys in fights.There was one very famous fighting monkey named Jaccco Macacco, who fought in London in the 1820s. He figured out a way to defeat the dogs. What he would do is jump on top of the dog’s back, where the dog couldn’t bite it very easily. Then he would reach around with his teeth and bite the dog’s jugular vein and kill it. He became famous. He found his way into a novel called “Life in London.” He eventually died in a fight against a dog. Actually the dog died too. The fight was so bad they both died after the match. So that was surprising. A monkey became one of the most famous dog fighters in history.

It got me thinking: There are probably awesome stories like the one about Jacco Macacco in everyone. Maybe instead of working on making small talk, I should have worked on learning the right questions to ask in order to unlock the black boxes that are strangers.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Happy Karen Niesslein Day

Presenting one of the major ways I got lucky:

HBGF! We'll always have Carrie Anne/Carianna.
Confidential to Caliente: Happy sixteen, lovah.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Where Is My Mind?

There's something about a furniture store that turns Brandon and me into amnesiacs. A couple weekends ago, after much consideration, this is what we settled on: a tangerine leather couch with white whip-stitching and two ice-blue recliners. How much would the microsuede cost on the chairs? we asked. How long will it take to deliver? And, also, if you find a sense of reality lying around the store here, would you mind sending it to us? Because it's probably ours.

We came home and remembered about that child and those two dogs and non-leather-lifestyle we have.

We need some new furniture. We've needed it for years, but you know how broken things just become invisible after a while? And if you put a blanket over them, it's somehow okay? And then when you go shopping, you lose your mind, either with the tangerine couch, or with this sense that nothing is right, that furniture makers have somehow become desperately stupid and/or greedy in the years since you were last in the market for a new couch?

That's where I'm calling from, the unmarked territory between Who You Are and Wouldn't It Be Nice to Have.

Monday, August 20, 2007

More Tuesday Tidbits

Hey. Roxanne, Heather Annastasia, and Chipper Beaudrot--email me your mailing addresses, would ya? (jennifer at practicallyperfectbook dot com). I have some prizes for you.

Everyone else, your prizes for the New Dr. Phil Homespun Phrase Contest should be in the mail. They're books. I've read them all and liked them (what, like I'm going to unload the real clunkers on you?), but I read freaky fast, freaky fast enough enough that Brandon has accused me of taking Bill Cosby's speed-reading course, and I thought I'd share. If you don't like them, or have already perused, there are ... things you can do with them, but as someone who is hoping very much that future royalty checks will keep her in chai latte money, you're not going to hear about these things from me.

In any case--thanks for playing!
Did you read this in Newsweek? The basic gist is that an editor reads a smattering of recent motherhood-themed books that fail to float her boat, and then decides that she's sick of reading about motherhood period. As my seventh-grade industrial arts teachers used to say, "That don't make no cent, son." I mean, axing an entire category of human experience? Yeesh. I wrote a letter to the editor. Because that's how we stick to the man around these parts.
I don't know what category of happiness this would fall under--maybe Forgotten Knowledge Happiness? My friend Janet and her daughter recently came back from France after spending a year there. I took five years of French; I can tell my sister Erin to clear off her desk; she can tell me to empty the trashcan. (We shared the illicit French/English dictionary that translated "Fuck off," so we can also tell each other that. Or, more literally, "Go make the fuck to yourself.")

Anyway, Janet and her daughter sometimes still slip into French, and I knew what they were saying--and it had nothing to do with trashcans, desks, or making the fuck. The surprise of being able to understand--it kind of made my whole week.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Last Hurrah

It's been a long August here, with no camp for Caleb, insanely hot outside. I'm not always sure to do during these long, formless days. We wind up with scenarios like this:

Caleb (reading from a fast food bag): What's all over the house?
Brandon: Dust.
Me: Dog hair.
Caleb: No. A roof. [Frowns]. Obviously.
Caleb: What always ends everything.
Me: Death.
Brandon: [Raises eyebrows.]
Caleb: The letter "g."

We can barely stand it.

Call me a rigid old wingnut, but I've realized that I'm happiest when I know what I should be doing. This week is the last before school starts and the parenting is easy. We've been shopping for clothes (poor child has had a growth spurt, bursting out of his size 7s like the Incredible Hulk), snatching up school supplies (he insisted on getting his own tape so let wouldn't have to rely on the teacher's), and getting in what time we can at the pool.

Someone in the neighborhood set up a Slip and Slide the other night, and all the kids were out late while the adults milled around with our drinks. The air definitely had that last hurrah feel to it. It was buggy and we all had stuff to do, but we lingered out there because this wouldn't last much longer. Less than a week, and we'd be be forcing the kids into showers and laying down the law with bedtime, but this night, we could be loose, with our beers and our slippery kids and the knowledge that we were in the right. This is what you do when, and because, summer ends.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Embryo Culture

So my interview with Beth Kohl is up on Salon, right here.

The book is awesome. As far as I know (one try at pregnancy, one kid), I'm a Fertile Myrtle, but I found the book hard to put down. For one, Beth is a terrific writer, both funny and thoughtful. For two, the whole world of IVF is well (and empathetically) researched. And for three, I love a book that both has a narrative thread and a facts to take in--the best of both worlds.

EC also made me squirmy in parts. Specifically, the part when she starts talking about when life begins, how embryos should be treated, all that. I am, as you may know, a person who pledges money to Planned Parenthood for every picketer they get; the cash supports the Women in Need fund. (Good deeds by the vengeful!) You know the pro-choice spiel. So does Beth. And in fact, we both believe in it.

I think what made me squirmy was her voicing in public what a lot of us feel: Abortion, whether in terms of an unplanned pregnancy or selective reduction, can be a complicated emotional package. For some of us, there will be sadness at the potential lost, sadness that coexists with knowing that the abortion was the best choice. For some of us, there will be a lot of hand-wringing.

What made me squirmy is that knowing that there are people who will take this private moment and use it for evil, whether it's to further erode Roe V. Wade, or to come up with some bogus study that finds that women who've had abortions are irreparably damaged, or even to point to a woman after the fact and use her complicated emotions to convince her that what she did was wrong. It's hard to be vulnerable in a politicized context. (How's that for a women's studies sentence?)

But, really, those people are out there anyway, and in the end, Beth's honesty shouldn't be kept under a bushel.

And I just did what I told myself not to do, which is let the abortion issue highjack her lovely story about God, baby-making, and the test tube. Oh, here, ladies, lovers of the truth--buy the book. You'll like.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


I was reading Dawn's post about sales, and I think we're in the same boat. My dad is also in sales (if you're in the market for a used car...), and he's also good at it. This lot is his very own and he's getting good word of mouth, which is remarkable for a car lot, given the reputation, too often deserved. (Once Brandon and I bought a car, and one of the guys went into a spiel about how we could take out a loan and invest the cash we were going to spend on the car in a CD. "Do you know how I know this?" he asked us. "Because you're the F&I guy?" Brandon asked him.)

Anyhoo, I didn't get the gene. I was standing around last Friday with a bunch of mothers I didn't know. My neighbor Julie mentioned Brain, Child. Another mother said, "What's Brain, Child? Should I know about this?"

I just shrugged. I couldn't read her. Was there a trace of snarkiness there? Or actual curiosity? Or just neutral chit chat? Someone good at sales might have at least described the magazine instead of turning into a three year old who takes everything literally. I don't know you, I thought. I don't know if you should know about Brain, Child or not.

The correct answer is: Of course she should. She should also know about PPIEW. I couldn't be the one to tell her, though, because I haven't yet figured out a way to drop it into conversation without fully morphing into a self-aggrandizing asshole. I'm already loud and ruddy. I already deliver a mighty firm handshake. What I'm saying is: There's not a lot of room to play around here.

I'm happy, though, to promote other things. Recently I've been liking:

--One Story. Do you know this publication? You get a little booklet with one short story every two weeks.

--Embryo Culture. I interviewed the author, Beth Kohl, for a piece in Salon (not sure when it'll be up). Kohl wrote about her struggle with both infertility and the moral questions that fertility treatment raises. It's both witty and well-researched.

--Blueberry tea. A person can't drink beer all of the time.

--Anything by Kristin Kovacic. We ran an essay by her in the Summer 07 B,C, and I've reread it many a time.

--Jezebel. I killed a whole weekend afternoon watching their Lady Bunch clips.

--Starr Hill Jomo. A person can drink beer some of the time.

--Winner of the National Book Award. I believe I've gushed about Jincy Willett's Jenny and the Jaws of Life? This is her novel.

--The first Rentals CD. I played the hell out of it when I was but a lass, but I recently dusted it off. Good-bye, Virginia--WHOO HOO!--with your lousy style! Oh, it makes slapping together some BLTs go much faster.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Fun

Holy Relationship Rescue, that was fun! You all had me even before the Jean Nate shout-out, even before Pussy Rush. I'm sending prizes to all the entrants. As Barbara Card Atkinson once said, I can't promise that you'll like your prize, but I can promise that I'll send it. (Or something like that.) If you entered, email me your mailing address, okay? It's Jennifer at PracticallyPerfectBook dot com.
Oh, I might get distracted by the penis-equipped female hyenas, but I do love my New Yorker. In the current issue there's a long piece about a rare genetic disorder, Lesch-Nyhan, that causes those afflicted with it to mutilate themselves, even while they're terrified of doing so. It's not online, but I loved this passage, a quote from Johns-Hopkins neurologist H.A. Jinnah, addressing what all of us can control and what we can't:

"Many people bite their fingernails. They'll tell you it's gross and that they don't want to do it--'Sometimes I get nervous and start biting my fingernails,' they'll say. There are people who chew their lips nervously. Now let's turn up the volume a little more: some people bite their cuticles. Turn up the volume a little more: some people bit their cuticles until they bleed. Now let's turn the volume way up. Now you have someone biting off tissue and bone in his fingers, biting off the whole finger, and chewing his lips off. Where, in this spectrum of behavior, is free will?"
I added a site feed thing to the blog, over there, the blue button to the right. Sign right up, if you understand what it means.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Let's Have a Contest!

I was reading Jody Mace's comment a couple posts down. Have I fully described the wonder that is Jody Mace? I let fly with a sort of scary, out-of-control laugh when I read this.

Anyway, Jody suggested, "There should be a website to generate new Dr. Phil sayings. Like the websites that tells you your stripper name?" I don't know how to do that, but I was thinking that maybe we could have a little contest to come up with the new, "down-home" sayings that Dr. Phil might use.

You can come up with your own, or you can use these templates:
"You can't ______ and ______, and expect __________."
"We're talking _______ and ___________ here."

You might want to include either basketball, hunting, or tabacky-chewin'-Granny-style sayings.

There will be a prize. It will not be a mustache trimmer. Enter as often as you care to. You can sign your stripper name (first pet + grandmother's maiden name), if you'd like.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Weekend Update

On Friday, I was indeed Sweating to the Oldies, if you consider the reunion of the Baaba Seth show "oldies." It was in the nineties and so humid that I once considered taking a maxi pad out of my purse and unwrapping it to absorb the sweat from my face. (It was an Overnite.)

On Saturday, we went back for more. Brandon got us tickets to the Nickel Creek/ Fiona Apple show for my birthday. The concert was billed as "Nickel Creek w/ Fiona Apple," which we took to mean that Fiona Apple would play first, then Nickel Creek would come on, and Brandon and I would take our bluegrass-free souls back into the air-conditioning.

It became pretty clear pretty fast that this isn't what the plan was. Nickel Creek came out. They were pretty good, so we stuck around, on the theory that Daniel Gilbert put forth in Stumbling on Happiness, that people are famously awful at predicting what will make them happy. Several songs later, Fiona Apple came out and played with the band. Just one song that was hers. To be fair, I don't know how the promoters should have billed the show. "Nickel Creek w/Fiona Apple, and by that, we mean that Fiona Apple will perform, you understand, SIMULTANEOUSLY, with Nickel Creek"? Maybe. We sat on a bench. We had a beer. We sweated and listened to unfamiliar music. We sweated more. I mentioned that I still has the Overnite in my purse to Brandon. He declined.

As it turns out, in this case, we were right in predicting that the configuration of the concert failed to make us happy, or even pleased. We went home, where my mom, sister Jill, and niece were waiting with Caleb. We showered, did some karaoke, then unearthed some of Mom's old albums and sang along with Billy Joel's The Stranger. Some are satin, some are steel, some are silk, and some are leath-ah!

Familiarity wins, at least for now, at least when my ladies are down visiting, at least until the heat wave breaks.

Friday, August 3, 2007

We Can Dance if We Want To

If you're in the Charlottesville area and in need of something to do tonight, may I suggest Fridays After Five? Baaba Seth is playing a reunion show. It's the band Brandon was in in the mid-nineties, and he'll be up on stage tonight. (Caleb, in his usual cut-right-to-one's-deepest-fears manner, asked Brandon, "Are you scared? What if you mess up? What would you do if people boo?")

Not likely, kiddo. Baaba Seth is fun, fun, fun. Details are here. I'll be the sweaty chick trying to manage the boy, my beer, and my barely suppressed desire to pull Brandon down from the stage and dance with him.