Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Story Break

This weekend, I went to the bookstore and came home with I’m Looking Through You by Jennifer Finney Boylan and Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida. And who knew: There was a theme.

I missed the big huzzah when Boylan’s book She’s Not There came out; this book is another memoir. Boylan—who used to be James Finney Boylan—riffs in this one on the conceit of hauntedness. She spent her childhood in a haunted house; her father, at one point, is being treated for cancer; and—the theme!—she writes on making sense of the past, in light of the present.

Vida’s book is a novel but tackles a similar issue, albeit from a different angle: What happens when your past isn’t what you thought? Does it affect your present? In this case, the narrator find out, on the day of her father’s funeral, that he wasn’t her bio-father. Her mother has long been out of the picture.

Good times, great cognitive dissonance.

It all reminded me of what positive psychologist Martin Seligman wrote in Authentic Happiness—that you can have three distinct emotions about your past, present, and future. What he doesn’t say (pointedly, at least) is that for most of us, it’s human nature to make some sort of narrative out of the past, present, and future of our lives.

In the interview with the author at the end of Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, Vida talks about the philopher Galen Strawson’s essay “Against Narrativity.” Says Vida, “There’s a small percentage of people who don’t view anything they do now as being related to anything that’s happened in their past.”

It’s a pretty fascinating idea to me. It got me thinking about what we have to edit it out of our pasts to make the narrative run smoother (smootherly?), to make it feel as if we are the same continuous person from childhood till now. If I can be so immodest, I’m very good at making the narrative. So much so that when my sisters, Erin, usually, remind me of something my younger self did, I sometimes can’t remember it at all. And it’s unlikely that she’s fucking with me.
Speaking of narratives, Tracy has an interesting conversation going on about craft and Books You Love. Take a gander!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Musical Interlude

I saw Juno last weekend (good movie, although I have seriously complicated feelings about it), and yesterday I got the soundtrack. Oh my. It's been several months since I felt this way about a new CD, which is to say happy and maybe a little obsessive.

Kimya Dawson? Awesome. Have a listen:

And coincidentally enough, she's playing tonight in Richmond (Plan 9 at 7 p.m.). It's only an hour away from me. But Brandon has practice and I have some prep work for our lovely weekend guests. Damn. I'm sorry to miss it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Free Advice

I think I’ve entered, as the creative types call it, “My Boring Phase.” Or maybe I’m just putting all my energy into work these days. Or maybe it’s just the slo-mo slog of January.

In any case, I can only rustle up some advice for the people who typed in these the key phrases that brought brought them here.

1. “Brett Michael” and “hair” (or some variation on that): I know you’re curious. I know there are rampant rumors out there that the man is sporting a wig. But first: Shouldn’t we all have a little gratitude that he didn’t go the Axl Rocks the Cornrows route? And secondly: Do you really want to know? Maybe Brett’s hair is our century’s Mona Lisa’s identity. Maybe there should be a little mystery in your life. Spice it up a little.

2. “Adding a companion dog with a beagle”: My beagle was only half-beagle (the other half dachshund), and you know? It turns out she didn’t really want a companion after all. She wanted to eat our food and pee on our rugs and scare our postal carrier by herself. But it all worked out in the end. Also, I hope you’re using the phrase “companion dog” ironically and not to differentiate it from your “show dog” or your “fightin’ dog.” Jesus.

3. “Experiments with Tide to Go and Shout”: Let me know how it works out, okay?

4. “Fussy Party Palate Cleanser”: We need to back up. Why would you even have a fussy party to begin with? Or maybe you attended a fussy party and need something to get the taste of fancy-schmancy out of your mouth? That’s probably it. In that case, I recommend a twelve-pack of Iron City, a can of Pringles, and perhaps some “Ninja Warrior” on the TV. No fussy there.

5. “Gyn. exam” + photos: Move along.

6. “Homemade fake cigar”: I’m just spit-balling here, but if I were in that bind, I might take one of those chocolate-flavored cereal straws and break it in half, then ask around to crafty friends what they’d do next. Good luck.

7. “Internet’s most perfect ass”: Aw, you. Thanks.

8. “Mucinex felt weird”: Don’t blame it on the Mucinex. Your dealer might be spiking your stash. Think about it.

9. “Rabbit eating leather couch”: Hey, I’m like the low-rent version of you! My mutt ate the pillow from the cloth loveseat and the arm rest on the couch! Now, if I see her getting that look in her eye, I either hang out with her or put her in the crate. A few years ago, I saw an infomercial about a polymer you can use to repair leather. You might want to research that. I think it was from that guy who shouts the whole time. The one with the beard.

10. “So don’t just stand there bust a move free”: Free? You want the gender-relations wisdom of Young MC for free? It’s your lucky day.

Or not, depending on how seriously you take the Young MC's wisdom.

Friday, January 18, 2008

How Brandon and I Came to Own a Snowflake Made From Q-Tips, Glitter, and Glue

Says Caleb: “I made it in homeroom, and I was going to keep it for myself, but then I thought I don’t know what to do with it! So I decided to make it be a present for you guys.”

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Long, Long Time Ago

I just finished reading See You in A Hundred Years by Logan Ward. He and his wife Heather took their son and set up house in the Shenandoah Valley here in Virginia. They spent a year living as if it’s the year 1900—growing their own food, forgoing TV and tampons, taking splash baths, etc.

Damn, I like this book.

It’s not even the 1900 stuff that’s most interesting, although it is. (Their son is still in diapers when they start the project, brave souls.) It’s the interaction with his neighbors, this getting along with people that would sooner poke their eyes out than live in New York City.

We lived in a different part of the Shenandoah Valley for years, and I’ve probably exhaustively documented the ways in which it didn’t feel like home to me. But there is something about the area that feels like time has touched it, um, really gently. It might have had something to do with the old-order Mennonites still riding their horses and buggies, or the ongoing popularity of mullets. I don’t know. But even with email and TV and hot showers, living there felt remote to me. After reading See You, I’m thinking the remoteness had to do with the feeling that it just wasn’t my community.

It’s good book. Also, I'd love to hear Heather's perspective on the year.

Anyway, it’s a snow day here, and I’m going to pull on my boots, get out there in my own community, and watch the boy go shrieking down the hill.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Did you know that January is Jennifer Hating on Dr. Phil Month? True story.

About six and a half minutes in:

Confidential to K.S.: I'd send some chicken soup if I could!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Trying to Email Me? UPDATED

Emails somehow aren't getting through to me, and I have no clue why.

If I've sent you one and you responded but haven't heard back, please leave a note here, and I'll get in touch. Thanks!
Comcast is waaaaay overzealous with the spam filter. If'n you need me, use jennifer at (Come on, Jessica!)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Two Things

Oh, Dr. Phil. Oh, He Who Would Fix Britney. I spent two weeks under his advisement, and I believe the technical term for most of what he has to say is “wack.”

So, in case you haven’t been keeping up, Britney’s having some hard times and they’ve culminated lately in her ex getting sole custody of her kids and her being hospitalized. Britney’s mother asked Dr. Phil to help. Phil came to the hospital room and spoke with Britney. He planned an hour-long special about her woes (and, theoretically, her recovery.) A spokesperson said it was inappropriate that Phil spoke publicly. A day later, the Spears family say, no, it’s all good. Britney was quoted as describing Phil as “really cool.” (Which is proof, in my book, that she truly does not have her head right.)

Phil’s quote to the Associated Press: "Somebody needs to step up and get this young woman into some quality care—and I do not apologize one whit, not one second, for trying to make that happen."

I don’t know what kind of quality care Phil could offer. He advises readers of his bestselling book Relationship Rescue to spend some time figuring out what sort of animal their partners are most like.

But even if he could work those made-up aphorisms into something helpful, it makes me feel all pukey that he’d even consider televising the break-down of someone whose problems clearly include fame itself. It’s sick, that self-interest. I don’t know what animal Phil most resembles. But I can think of a couple body parts.
Pretend a segue is here.

Yesterday, Caleb had a bunch of his friends in the neighborhood over. They were all at the kitchen table having a snack and talking about how late they get to stay up on weekends. Past ten o’clock, Caleb said. Once until midnight, another said.

“Well,” one kid said, “my mom puts me in bed at nine—but I stay up later!”

Oh, I love this gaggle of kids, with their Nerf weaponry and barely contained energy and need for cheese crackers. They’re loud but sweet, rough with each other but polite to me. I’m trying not to be nostalgic for this phase that’s still going on, but that mix of innocence and braggadocio? It just kills me.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Links Will Be My Avatar

I don’t think I’m using the word “avatar” correctly. Anyhow, I’m all sick and tired and antibodized. And self-Googling:

--A few weeks ago, I did this interview with Coy Barefoot, whom I know from way back in the day. It was fun. Also, I’m kicking myself for taking credit for the tone of an entire publication. It wasn’t all me, but looking back, I’m amazed at the things Hawes (my editor) let me write. (Like a parody of The Bridges of Madison County, if it were set in the Charlottesville area.) Go on and click, if you can stand the adenoidal voice. Also, Coy’s show is great—before I went on air, he had someone there talking about the Natural Bridge (one of the seven natural wonders!), and he regularly has the editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review on. Goooood stuff.

--I get to be part of the Virginia Festival of the Book this year! If you’re looking for a reason to visit Charlottesville, this is it, baby.

--I was totally over the moon when the Book Slut site included Brain, Child in its Magazine Whore column! Doesn't everybody read Book Slut? Everyone should. If not, this is a good place to start. Just saying.

So, if you've made it down this far into the self-promotion, I'm assuming you're my mom. Hi, Mamasan. Love you.

Monday, January 7, 2008

There Is No Fear in This Dojo

But there are lots of tissues and Vick’s Vapo-Rub. I can’t tell if I have a new, worse cold or the same worsening one. Also, I was thinking how I sort of resent the Mucinex people for anthropomorphizing mucus. And can the guy who does the voice for the mucus in the Mucinex ads ever experience a cold in the same way again? I bet not.
So at some point this year, I’m going to have to learn a new layout program. I’ve sort of been in denial about this, but I was making a postcard for my brother-in-law’s business yesterday (need drywall, stucco, or plaster work in the D.C. metro area?), and the old computer, which has the old software on it, sounded like it was dry-heaving. Alieviate my hard drive, please. I’m all full up. Blugh.

The older I get, the pickier I become about which things I’m excited to learn. I think we all know what sort of old lady I’ll be.
Today at lunch, Brandon and I were outside with the dogs (because it truly is no longer motherfucking cold here--thanks, global warming!) and we thought we heard Simon whimpering. “Oh,” Brandon said after a minute. “It’s just people talking.”

I look at the parking lot behind our house. “Maybe they’re having a whimpering dog contest.” Which for some reason cracked me up enormously. People! On their lunch break! Competing to find out who makes the most realistic whimpering dog sound!

But, seriously, it’s harder than you might think.
Here’s Conan O’Brien, singing the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” in the voice of Edith Bunker. (It's about a minute in.) [Via Gawker]

Thursday, January 3, 2008

I Wouldn't Be Here

Except Brandon is snoring in way that sounds like, “Pompeii. Pompeii.” And you know what? I don’t need to be thinking about Mount Vesuvious. I’m tired.

We stayed up too late last night because we remembered at the last minute that Caleb had homework and he claimed that he “deserved” to stay up until ten. This seemed like a good-ish idea until this morning because we’ve been sleeping in late, except when I saw him at the bus stop yawning in the freezing cold and I felt very, very sorry for him. He had to go to school when I had the option of shuffling back into bed. I didn’t, but I made up a song.

It’s motherfucking cold out here.
It’s motherfucking cold out here.
It’s motherfucking cold out here.
It’s cold.

You can sing it to whatever tune you please.

So these are my resolutions:

1. Get enough sleep.
2. Plan a party for January because January is long and cold. That, my friends, is reason enough.