Tuesday, May 04, 2010

you only hurt the ones you love

One of my mother's favorite things to do whenever we were together was to go 'antiquing'. In Mom's case it was less about the antiques themselves than it was searching for the lost items of her memories ~ tiny porcelain dolls; delicate embroidery and tablecloths, dusty wooden washboards; irons made of, well, iron.

Often the items that caught her fancy were kitchen tools; often they were tools that her own mother might have used. And almost always she'd want to buy me something. Always, I declined. I am not entirely certain why.

Part of me wanted her to save her money, although for what, now, I cannot say. Thriftiness was a habit she had so deeply instilled in me that I couldn't let it go, even when it ceased to have purpose for her.

Part of me didn't want her to think that I took her shopping just to get gifts, something she would have been justified in suspecting given her experience of my youthful self. I am sorry to say that a more spoiled, selfish and acquisitive young woman would have been difficult to find. In fact, had cultural mores been then what they are today, I probably would have warranted my own reality show.

Long ago, Mom and I were out shopping when she found a large, cast-iron pot in a local shop. "Oh, it's a STEAL at $30!" exclaimed the proprietress, going in for the hard sell rather quickly, I thought. "It's an excellent deal!"

Well, maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. I only know that moments before, I had been examining some Spode "collectible" plates which the woman had priced at $29 that I had, just days before, spotted at TJ Maxx for $7.99. This sort of thing irritates me; I understand that there's a sucker born every minute, but it angers me when people blatantly attempt to take advantage of this sad fact. And it infuriates me when they seem to be insinuating that, by my very presence in such an establishment, I might just be one them.

So when my dear little mother said, "I want to buy it for you!" I could barely conceal my disdain.

"No Ma, I don't WANT it," I said, with little grace. Absolutely no grace, in truth. "Do not buy it," I sniffed coldly, as if I were doing her a favor by depriving her of the pleasure of giving something she valued to her graceless, boorish daughter. I can still see the disappointed sadness in her eyes. It breaks my heart to remember it. I do not know how people forgive themselves for the myriad small cruelties we inflict upon those who deserve it least. I can't. We can only learn from our mistakes, I tell myself, that we may go forth and injure no more. This may be true. But it remains that there are countless such moments I would give my life to take back. If only I could.

Of course, I cannot go antiquing without thinking of my mother and fortunately, the overwhelming majority of my memories of our outings together are happy ones. But it was this moment that came immediately to mind when I spotted a large enameled cast iron pot in one tidy little stall.

"A dutch oven!" I exclaimed excitedly to my shopping companion, Robbie. "Do you know how much these things are worth? This is an excellent buy! It's practically a STEAL!"

"You should buy it," she said, nodding agreeably. "You never buy anything."

It's true. And I did. In my mind, I finally let Mom buy it for me. Her birthday was April 30th, and she would have been 97 years old. This weekend I made a 6.5 pound garlic and fennel pork in my new vintage Dru Holland dutch oven, slow-roasted over a period of 10 hours, during which the house filled with the aromas of cooking and the sweet melancholy of memory. The results were delectable. Mom would have been happy, I think.

Miss you still.

Monday, April 19, 2010

it's my party and I'll cry if I want to

I consider myself a cheerful person, in a restrained, melancholic sort of way. I am happy, with reservations. Life is hard and then you die, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy yourself while you're here. Really, it's the best you can do.

Unfettered joy, on the other hand, is an unsustainable and entirely irrational state of being for adult humans, suitable only for Sufi mystics and Labrador retrievers.
I'm not even sure it's wise. Sadness is a condition of life, not a side effect that can and should be avoided at all costs with the proper combination of drugs, exercise and frequent applications of anti-fungal cream. To love is to lose. To live is to mourn. I think, therefore I'm mildly bummed.

In an interview I cannot now find but which I heard recently on NPR and am pretty sure I did not make up, a noted professional of some sort discussed at great length the benefits of sadness, which included improved attention to detail, complete focus on working through grief or difficulty; heightened awareness and acceptance of others and an increased tendency toward self-reflection resulting, in some cases, in greater creative self-expression. Without misery, there would be less art. No blues, no 'blue period'. No blues, no Blues. Period.

And yet pop culture is awash lately with perky enablers on this
wanton quest for unrelenting gladness. In A Lot of Happy Talk, Times columnist Meghan Daum considers the hordes of people who are so clearly anxious to tell the rest of us how to be happy. Because they are. No really, they are! Dammit.

"I don't mean fleeting moments of happiness, the kind that can waft by as you dance at your wedding or watch your child lead his soccer team to victory. I'm talking about people who are always announcing how happy they are: The friend who meets you for lunch once a year and spends the whole time evangelizing about her constant self-actualized joy. The person on Facebook who reports on the bliss rendered by his most recent meal of wood-fired flatbread and organic litchis. These people are exactly what Gertrude meant when she said to Hamlet: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

Amen, sister.

Daum cite
s "The Nine Rooms of Happiness" by Danziger and Birndorf and "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin as prime examples of this stridently cheerful crowd. According to Rubin, making your bed every morning is key, although as Daum points out, as the wife of a hedge-fund manager living in a 3 story Manhattan townhouse, it's a little hard to imagine the author having to make her own bed in the morning in an effort to try and positively motivate her day. But I'm sure her maid is ecstatic.

I've no studies to prove it and have yet to write a book on the subject (although lack of evidence need not hinder any quest for self-help tome authorship) but it has been my experience that, barring neurological or chemical imbalances creating chronic and treatable dissonance, most people are about as happy as they choose to be.

Naturally, there are those who take a good thing too far.

For these people, there is Despondex.

Monday, February 08, 2010

sunday, painting Dad

I've been meaning to do a painting of my Dad ever since I finished the one of Mom several months ago. As a couple they were inseparable, and I just know that somewhere out there in the vastness of an uncomprehending universe they are sitting around, drinking coffee, enjoying a nice piece of Entenmann's crumb cake or maybe a honey bun or two and wondering why their daughter hasn't yet made them a matched set. The truth is, I wasn't sure if I could catch a likeness. My father was a handsome, funny, charming man, and a Sunday painter like me. His portrait has to be just-so. So I keep putting it off.

But the rains and my own lack of ambition have kept me from painting outdoors for the last couple of weekends, outdoors being the only place I can deal with the smell and mess of the oils, and yesterday was still a little too cool. So I dragged the watercolors down from the guestroom closet and tried a tiny (4x4") sketch at the dining room table, based on a photo I took on a long-ago trip back home. The plan is to make a 12 X12" canvas to compliment Mom's in style and intent. I'm pretty awful with watercolor, always using too much water and mushing up the color, but I'm actually pretty pleased with this first attempt

It's not perfect, and I need to adapt on the canvas in order to show his casually crossed arms and the WWII era tattoo that was such a part of who he was. But it looks like him.
It feels like him. I may be able to come up with a matched set after all.

Oh, and the New Orleans Saints came marching in too ~ Laissez les bon temps roulez! Hip hip hooray!

A very happy Sunday overall.

Friday, February 05, 2010


According to all the experts and Jillian Michaels, an individual must take at least 10,000 steps a day in order to maintain a healthy body weight, a statistic I find breathtaking in its optimism. I know this to be a rather difficult thing to do. In fact, I have long suspected the cardio machines at my own gym of flat-out lying to me about the number of miles and calories I was logging per session; of padding the numbers in a blatant attempt to bolster my faltering ego, to assure me that yes, I was still cute and no, pink sweat pants with Juicy emblazoned across the bottom (in a suspiciously large font) do not make my butt look bigger. Only, you know, perkier. And possibly age-inappropriate. But good for me!

To my everlasting credit and intrinsic paranoia, I did not take these disingenuous exercise machines at their word. In a move
not unlike that of hiring a private detective to check up on a dubious lover, about a week or so ago I went out and bought myself a pedometer. Because I simply had to know the truth.

So far, other than the discovery that sitting at a computer while wearing a pedometer and expecting the numbers to increase is the height of magical thinking, the results are inconclusive. But it hardly matters. I needn't have bothered. Because who needs to walk when you can just get one of these?

Enjoy. I laughed so hard my pedometer fell off. And I logged 673 more steps.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

oo la la LA Art Show

*Editor's note : editor speaks only Pidgin French
and takes no responsibility for poorly spelled words, misuse of grammar or improperly applied art historical concepts. Please direct all complaints to: Monsieur J. O'Donnell, 7th grade French, Spring Field Jr High School.**

**Name changed to protect editor's Alma Mater

Monday, January 18, 2010


It has finally come to pass. My second life avatar is more creative than I am.

In his review of the recently published
"You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto" by Jaron Lanier for the LA Times, Ben Ehrenreich writes:

espite the binary nature of his own neural wiring, each synapse an on/off switch, passing electrochemical messages from axon to dendrite, Jaron Lanier will be the first to tell you that the mind is not a digital device. We are analog creatures, staticky and mysterious, resistant to the normalizing containment of code. Lanier's mind has few apparent boundaries. It grapples with zombies and "gray goo," "inner trolls" and the "lords of the computing clouds," with "cephalopod envy" and "songles" -- with "the mystery of Bengalese finch musicality" and the bucket containing all red things.

This is heady stuff. I have never heard of Mr. Lanier before, but am
awed by the apparently limitless scope of his mind. An enthusiastic fan of the virtual reality experience, I understand little to none of the technology which enables it, believing myself to be disappearing into it's fantastical realms by virtue of my childlike sense of wonderment, a smattering of pixel dust and an added gig of memory.

But I am intrigued by his stated original intention to create
"something that would take the extreme possibilities of internal experience and bring them into a realm where they're shared with people instead of being sources of isolation."
This, as Ehrenreich states, is essentially the definition of art, going on to describe Lanier's "fundamentally humanist faith in technology, a belief that wisely designed machines can bring us closer together by expanding the possibilities of creative self-expression."

The early days were filled with promise as "Individuals created free-form home pages, posting poems, theories, rants, pictures of their cats and, importantly, links to the pages of like-minded kooks. Lonely eccentricities quickly spawned communities. People behaved not as passive consumers but as active creators of their own culture."

Sound familiar? I miss those giddy, unselfconsciously idiosyncratic pages ~ everyone a poet, an artist, a writer, a pundit, a star. I've often wondered whatever happened to them.

According to Lanier, commercialization led to the devolvement of such free-wheeling creativity into what he describes as 'cybernetic totalism.'

"The hive mind is for the most part stupid and boring," asserts Lanier. "Why pay attention to it?" Why, indeed. Social networking sites like Facebook "confine creativity to preestablished fields, reducing our oceanic complexities to 'multiple-choice identities' that can be sold to marketing databases."

I am sorely tempted to buy this book, but as fascinating as all this is I confess I only understood about half of what was discussed in the review; I am certain I could not wrap my brain around anything as weighty as a manifesto. Still, I am motivated again to use the tools at my disposal in a freer, more imaginative, individualistic manner. Can't let my avatar have all the fun.