Thursday, July 31, 2008

Readerly Stuff

Hey, remember when I asked you if you could recommend some books? Damn. You ladies are good. I just finished Marianne Wiggins’s The Shadow Catcher, and, Jessica, I will kiss you full on the mouth for introducing this to me. It’s a novel, but reads like a history within a memoir. It’s just about everything I’ve been wanting in a book lately, and I’m all giddy that I haven’t read any other Marianne Wiggins so I can just gorge myself.

I’ve been reading a lot lately. To provoke thoughts. Because otherwise my brain has just been emitting garbage like, “I could really go for some watermelon right now” and “I wonder when the new season of Love of Rock is going to start.” I’d like to think that maybe the subconscious is busting its ass getting the structure of my new project together, but I may be deluding myself.

In addition to The Shadow Catcher,, I also found some good thought provocation in The Best American Crime Reporting. Almost every single piece in it is top-notch—yes, there is a crime, but also some great insights.

Take this passage from Ariel Levy’s “Dirty Old Women,” about women who sleep with teenage boys:

“We (still) like to keep our understanding of masculinity connected to our understanding of maturity. We’d never had a female anchorwoman deliver our news until recently, we don’t often let female columnists explain the news, and we’ve never had a female president to make the news. For many Americans, being a real grown-up requires a penis. And if you’ve got that, even if you’re only 15, you must have the maturity and the manliness to know what you want to do with it—even if that involves intercourse with a 42-year-old. Who among us would say the same thing about a 15-year-old girl?”

There’s a goodly amount of this sort of brain work in the book.

And here’s something for the journalists among us:

“Did you see Bertucci’s testimony?” he’s saying as he’s driving. “Was it good for my case? Fuuuuuuck. It was awesome for my case.”

That’s from Tom Junod’s “The Loved Ones” and I wouldn’t be able to contain myself if a quote like that fell in my lap.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fun with Recycling

I got all inspired from Rebecca Walker’s essay in The Maternal Is Political to reduce my dependency on paper towels, so I cleaned out my overstuffed drawers and set aside some old tee-shirts to cut up.

As is our way, said tee-shirts sat in a bag for a few weeks before we got around to cutting them, and finally one night, Brandon and Caleb sat down to make us some rags. I happened to glance over just as one tee-shirt—Brandon’s tee-shirt—had been scissored to the perfect crop top length. “Try it on,” I demanded.

Brandon stood up and held it up. It hit mid-ribcage. “You like?” he asked.

“Seriously,” I said. “Go try it on.” [I’m trying here very hard to write this so it sounds as if I’m not a bossy harpy, but no luck.]

So he goes into the bathroom and comes out wearing his crop top. Oh, we laughed!! And then I laughed some more! And then I had an extra side of laughing!

I recently did an interview where one of the questions was along the lines of, “Is Brandon really so awesome?” When a man will put on a piece of clothing at his wife’s request, for simple entertainment purposes, I believe the answer is: Yes.

Monday, July 28, 2008

I Forgot to Tell You

I cannot believe I didn’t write on my blog that it was my birthday on Thursday because I am a big baby about everyone knowing when it’s my birthday because IT’S MY SPECIAL DAY AND I AM A SPECIAL GIRL!! Even the people who I incidentally run into know because I find some way of letting it slip. Would you like cash back? Well, probably not because when it’s your birthday, like it is for me, TODAY, other people are supposed to be showering you with dinners and gifts. So, no thanks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Between QI and ZA Lies Obsession

My mother and I are out of control with the online Scrabbble. We send messages like “where are you?” and “you better not leave your computer.”

Ah, well. At least all this vocab-building will really help me with my college boards!

Monday, July 21, 2008

The One, The Only

I’m almost positive we don’t stink anymore. Except Simon. He totally does.

It’s not often that the ideas alone in a book stick in my craw and get me all bothered, but Jenny Block’s Open had that effect on me. To sum up from the last post: Open is about Block’s experience of, and her case for, open marriage.

I should say first off, that Block is a terrific speaker and she’s very good at capturing things like that heady feeling of first attraction. At her talk, she emphasized how an open marriage allows her and her partners to live honestly, instead of cheating—the deception and betrayal is the hurtful part of infidelity, in her experience, not the act of sleeping with someone else.

It’s interesting, I think, that only sexual stuff that leads people to an open marriage. Plenty of us who can’t get what we need from our spouses get it from other people—an appreciation of jazz, say, or a discussion of the kind of books we like. All in all, I have to believe that open marriage is definitely a workable situation for some people.

That said, it ain’t going to be me, babe. The most surprising thing about this book to me was how strong my own reaction was to it.

I should point out here that I believe that each marriage is a black box, knowable only to the people inside of it. I haven’t even had adult relationships. Brandon and I met when we were nineteen. I know our marriage well, but that’s it.

So I think part of my big issue with this book is when Block branches out from her own experience and makes assumptions about how widespread the problems that led her to open marriage are. One of her main arguments is that monogamy is unnatural and that men and women are biologically driven to multiple partners. “And if that’s how we’re wired, so be it,” she writes. It’s a frustrating argument. As Barbara pointed out in the comments, the whole “natural” v. “unnatural” is a losing game. I mean, one could make the case that we’re “wired” to hasten the deaths of our weakest newborns, say, but we don’t.

Worse, the us v. them thread put me on the defensive. Block writes: “Open marriage is not for the insecure. It is not for people concerned about what the Joneses think, or whose self-worth is inextricably tied to their partners’ faithfulness and attention … It is not for the dishonest, the close-minded, the naïve, the ignorant, or the incommunicative. It is not for people ruled by ego. It is not for the unimaginative or the unadventurous.”

I know. I know Block is tired of being thought of as some sort of promiscuous sexual deviant, but jeez. Do we really have to break it down into the polyamorists—brave, honest, and true to themselves—and the monogamists? The Snoozy McDimwits?

There aren’t any good statistics on how many of us marrieds cheat, so Block and anyone else who writes about monogamy or infidelity becomes instantly susceptable to what journalist E.J. Graff calls the my-friends-and-me method of journalism. Block suggests that it’s possible that upwards of 80% of marriages involve some infidelity. If that were true, I do believe I’d need my smelling salts.

For most of my friends and me, monogamy works fine. For me and Brandon, I know it does. And it does for a lot of the reasons that Block scoffs at. Yes, part of my self-identity is wrapped up in Brandon because a lot of my history is wrapped up in Brandon; we’re inter-dependent and introducing anyone else to this dynamic, for us, would be dangerous and stupid. I don’t get a charge out of seeing anyone flirt with Brandon, much less have sex with him. And if I want something else while making the whoopee, I ask. (Granted, this is not difficult since I’m hetero; if I wanted a pair of lady breasts to nuzzle, it’d be another ball game.)

What do you think?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Stank

On Friday night, I went to see Jenny Block speak at Writer House, our brand spanking new organization here for writers. Block wrote Open, a memoir/polemic about marriage. She and her husband decided years into their own marriage that they wanted it to be an open one. Right now, Block is married and she also has a committed relationship with a girlfriend.

Which, basically, is not for me to have an opinion on. But I was kind of unsettled by her insistence that monogamy goes against our biological imperatives. This post was going to be an examination of that.

Until some biological imperatives of a different sort came up.

I came home, poured myself a beer, and went out back to have a cigarette. Because Simon is my short and fuzzy shadow, he came with me. He trotted out into the yard. There was a kerfuffle, and the next thing I know, I see a fluffy animal scuttling off near the a/c unit. And there is Simon, stumbling up onto the porch, foaming at the mouth. A skunk sprayed him.

You know, I always thought I sort of liked a skunk smell. I don’t mind a mildly skunky beer, for example. But that was before I knew what skunk really smelled like, which is: What you think of as skunk, but mixed with an overpowering stench of rancid garlic and rotten onion. I called to Brandon, who got on the phone with the emergency vet. Caleb started bawling, and Luna got frantic to come outside. I hung out with my poor stinky pup who continued to foam at the mouth. I didn’t know where the hell the skunk was. I was scared that it would amble up the ramp onto the porch and spray us both (not likely, I realize in hindsight), but every minute or so, I said loudly, “Go away, you motherfucking skunk.”

We treated Simon with a baking soda/ peroxide/ dish soap solution, and then made a mistake: We put him in the basement until we could figure out what to do.

It’s a long boring story. Let’s just say there were several baths in the back of Brandon’s truck, there were tomatoes to be pureed, there was a basement to be mopped vigorously with a bleach solution. There were windows open in the dead heat of mid-July, and there was boiled vinegar. But most of all, there was paranoia that the three of us humans would become so used to the smell that we wouldn’t be able to tell that we were rank, too. That we would forever be The Family Stank, trailing fumes like Pepé Le Pew.

Later, I think, I’ll write about Open because it really is an interesting book. But right now I’m thinking that so-called biological imperatives—whether it’s an urge to have sex with OPP or to spray my dog with skunk stank—for me, can only create a mess and leave me paranoid about the aftermath.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Old Things

I got back a couple days ago from Vero Beach, Florida. Brandon’s folks live down there, and they have—at least on vacation—for generations. His great-great grandfather drove down from Indiana, in pre-interstate days and built a house there in 1917; apparently, no one wanted a house right on the ocean then. It’s still standing, close to downtown, with additions and updates.

Given my own little genealogical project, this strikes me as indescribably cool, to have this place that your family can claim as its own. If you want to know a little bit of the town’s history? Dude, you just ask your mom! Apparently in the ‘50s, there were two columns with a big wooden sign that read “Welcome to Vero Beach.” Today, just one of the columns is standing with no apparent purpose. Brandon’s mom knows this, first-hand.

I love this shit. Me, I went up to Pennsylvania earlier this summer and drove around looking for where my great-great grandparents lived. I took my grandma with me and drove down a windy road to a tiny coal town. It was completely unfamiliar, except in the way that all of western Pennsylvania is familiar to me, with the dark dirt and leafy trees and the roads that dip up and down. Gram and I searched for a good twenty minutes before we actually found what we were looking for: a small collection of houses that made up the town where my great-great grandparents lived and died. It was the physical location, but where they lived—with men fighting outside the Hungarian Club, a movie theater where these immigrants got a taste of Hollywood, mine shafts that children feel into—doesn’t exist anymore.

On one hand, it saddens me. But on the other hand, it’s some serious progress that I didn’t grow up in a company house; that, in fact, our house was “California style,” with a great room and brand-new furniture. In my family, we’re always rushing to whatever’s newest. Our family recipes always call for a brand-name something, and “antique” means “used” and not something we want.

Ladies, it’s hard out there for an amateur genealogist.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

More Free Advice

So the flu/virus turned into bronchitis, and now I sound like Brenda Vaccaro gargling with gravel, but I believe I’m on the mend.

Sadly, I have nothing to blog about since I’ve been watching TV for the past nine days. Unless you need me to fact-check something from Dirty Dancing. I watched that twice. Also, the Christopher Guests movies. Why, I wonder who knows I’m staying at the Oasis? That cracks me up every time.

It’s probably time for another round of free advice, based on the search engine keywords that get people to this blog. Okay. Here we go:

--“Boyfriends ugly furniture.” True story: Once Brandon and I were helping some friends move, and it was determined that some ugly furniture was too heavy to get out of the apartment. That was a good move.

--“There’s no fear in this dojo.” In case you’re wondering, it’s okay to refuse when asked to “sweep the leg.”

--“Song lyrics ‘all the light in the house were on.’ “ Is this the song you’re looking for?
All the lights in the house were on.
Someone let the faucet drip.
Beer bottles were in the trash,
And we ignored all enviro-tips.
Hello. We’re enemies of Mother Earth.

I’m kidding. That’s not really a song.

--“And another thing jenny.” Why would you search for this? Are you hoping the other thing will show up on my blog? Well, as a “Jenny,” here are some suggestions for you:
And another thing, Jenny—I’m going to get you a fresh beer from the refrigerator!
And another thing, Jenny—you’d better not try to clean the house!
And another thing, Jenny—you look breath-taking with unwashed hair!

--“brandon dust.” Sprinkle a little of this for fantastic results!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


I have some kind of horrible summer virus that I keep calling "the flu" because that's the sort of alarmist I am.