Archive for January, 2010

Media Roundup

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

A quick review of recently consumed media:

1) The Liars’ Club. I finally read the first Mary Karr memoir (15 years late), with the aim of reading the second and then the third. It’s pretty brilliant. In fact, it’s something of an argument against all of the bloggy, casually written, stunt-driven memoirs in its obsessive attention to language.

Not that I begrudge anyone le memoir lite—I read them, often enjoyably—but, just, are they literature? Karr is writing literature. (This is where I mock my own pretension by quoting the blowhard professor father in The Squid and the Whale and saying that Mary Karr is “a serious person.”)

2) Manhood for Amateurs, by Michael Chabon. A collection of personal essays about being a husband, father, and son. He writes great sentences, and I’m a fan of Chabon’s unique brand of neurotic cheer.

Sometimes I feel a little uneasy about the degree to which he seems to be asking for expiation for his fatherly sins. Or maybe granting it to himself? Or maybe it’s more of a public self-flagellation he’s engaged in? Anyway, still worth reading. His take on Obama grabbed me right by the “me, too” gizzard.

3) Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. We laughed pretty hard.

4) A documentary about the bald eagle on PBS. I caught only a few minutes, and that while I was clicking back and forth with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (don’t judge me), largely because I find it impossible to watch baby animal death, or even adult animal death by drowning in a frozen lake.

(“The problem with nature,” I said to my brother-in-law as he walked through the room, “is that people die.”

Anyway, one of my favorite things to do when watching nature videos is immediately apply the animal behavior to humans and see how it pans out.

So here’s what I got from the eagle thing: The male builds the nest, at least at first. And when a female comes a’lookin’, they have like a three-minute mating ritual (tandem flying), after which they set about to building up the nest even more.

But whenever the female brings a new twig or some grass and places it, the male always picks it up and moves it. Always. The first time he does it, she’s right there, kind of “Doo-dee-doo, don’t mind if I pretend this isn’t happening,” and he doesn’t look at her. He’s like, “There. That’s where it should have been.” But later he takes to doing it only when she isn’t there.

M: I could kind of see the attraction there.

J: Yeah?

M: You know, the male had a really good-looking nest. Plus, it was in a great location. It was like a West Village nest. I could maybe potentially have gone for a dude with a really excellent house.

J: Yeah, but he controls the decor.

M: God, I know.

[Pause.]

M: Okay, never.

Favorite Cookie

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

John likes ginger snaps.

Who knew? He is not in general in the thrall of cookies, as I am. And whenever he makes his vegan millet chocolate chip masterpieces, I eat 3/4 of them in the first few days, whereas he takes a week to get to the bottom of his pile. (Then we start in on the raw dough, to same effect.) So it’s been a pleasure to see him reach for the ginger snap box again and again.

The other day:

M: Wow, Sweetie. You like ginger snaps.

J: I do.

M: I’ve never seen you eat this many cookies.

J: Yeah?

M: It’s exciting. I feel so met.

J: I think ginger snaps are my favorite cookies.

M: I think so.

J: You love cookies.

M: I am in love with cookies.

J: What’s your favorite cookie?

M: I think . . . vegan millet chocolate chip.

J: Really?

M: Those cookies are supreme.

J: [Face lighting up.] Wow, Sweetie! That’s so exciting!

M: It is?

J: [Celebrating a momentous discovery.] I introduced you to your favorite cookie!

M: You did!

[Pause. Collapse into hysterics.]

J: What?

M: [Howling with laughter.] Sweetie—

J: What?

M: You changed my WHOLE FUCKING LIFE.

Committed

Friday, January 15th, 2010

I read it. Eh. Gilbert readily admits that, simultaneously traumatized by a harrowing divorce and “sentenced to marry” her Brazilian partner by the Department of Homeland Security, she was desperate for reasons to feel okay about marriage. The book is her attempt to convince herself that everything will be okay, marriage notwithstanding.

But here’s my issue: Why does she go to such extravagant lengths to find an intellectual argument for marriage when the real problem is emotional?

Gilbert isn’t afraid of commitment. She knows she wants to stay with Felipe; when they were told to marry (or live outside the U.S.), she and Felipe had long since bought rings and had a private, non-legal ceremony. What she’s terrified of is divorce.

The way I see it, there are two direct routes to dealing with this problem:

1) Face her fears of divorce. Easier said than done, I know—I have one or two fears myself, and they don’t cede easily. But Gilbert spent four months meditating and praying all day, every day in India. Let me repeat: Four months. All day. Every day. Even a fraction of that kind of spiritual commitment (ha, book title), applied to her fear of divorce, would probably move Gilbert at least a little.

2) Learn ways to strengthen her relationship with Felipe. That’s the single oddest thing about the book for me: Gilbert dedicates only a sliver of her chatty rant to the possibility of working on the relationship. She admits having just learned that strong relationships tend to be the result of active work, as opposed to luck, but she doesn’t much support that epiphany with action. She reads one helpful study of infidelity—by Shirley Glass! Ira’s mom!—and then leaves the rest of the field of relationship psychology alone.

Elizabeth, let’s talk. There are well-documented ways of strengthening relationships. There are tools that you and Felipe can easily learn and very helpfully use, skilled communication chief among them. And when you keep the lines of talk open, you won’t be surprised if things begin to sour even slightly with Felipe. You’ll know. And you can take measures.

I recommend starting here.

Love,
Melissa

Husband/Toothpaste

Monday, January 11th, 2010

I don’t want to brag or anything, but John is something of a wizard when it comes to toothpaste. He can eke out every last morsel of paste from any style of tube, no matter how fussy. In fact, he gets all of my cast-offs, which he stretches to last for weeks. He probably never even buys his own toothpaste. (Huh.) We have a similar arrangement with soap stubs.

Anyway, so last night he finally reached the bitter, bitter end of a tube, which he had squeezed accordion-style into a flat fan, and when we were celebrating the moment when it would at long last sail into the trash, I said, “And I know what you’re going to do with the—”

Cut to a shot of the bottom left corner of the medicine cabinet, where there is a towering, spilling-over pile of toothpaste caps.

We both started laughing so hard we couldn’t speak.

“—cap,” I gasped at last.

M: By the way, what exactly are you doing with all of those caps?

J: They used to come in lots of different colors.

M: Yeah?

J: And then they realized, clearly, that there was a cheaper way to do it.

M: And?

J: Haven’t you seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

M: You’re planning to build a giant castle of toothpaste caps?

J: Not me. Someone else.

M: Oh.

J: I was thinking I could bring them over to the Depot for Creative Reuse.

M: On the same day that you’re going to bring over the strawberry baskets and the old shoes, right?

J: Exactly.

[Hilarity.]

M: Sometimes I literally cannot believe the things you do.

J: That’s good.

[Fade to hug.]

Twovies, Two

Monday, January 11th, 2010

I’m a blogging maniac this morning.

1) Up in the Air: Good, but not as good as its reputation. Like Juno, a little overwritten. Plus, any movie that pairs a 48-year-old man with a 32-year-old woman without making reference to such is never going to fully win my heart. (I’d heard that Clooney had “met his match” with a “mature woman,” so I assumed she’d be in her forties, too. Ha.)

Ultimately, though, the movie makes a point about human connection, and while it’s not the most subtle or nuanced delivery vehicle for such a message, it works. It’s worth seeing. And it’s pretty funny.

2) In the Loop: British political satire, now out on DVD. Very funny. Very, very funny. With a depressing ending.

Angry Cat

Monday, January 11th, 2010

While we’re on the topic of furry animal death, I must discuss Angry Cat.

Ollie, actually, is his name. But I called him Angry Cat for the first year I knew him, because he’s an old, gnarly cat, and his face is frozen in a perpetual scowl, and he yowls whenever I cross his path.

And then I got to know him. And he’s not even grumpy!

Ollie lives up the street from us, and he’s often out on his stoop when we pass. His yowl is less of a “Get out of my way” than “Oh, you! Get over here and give me some love!” although sometimes he’s trying to attract the attention of his people, as he’d like to be let into the house.

Anyway, I usually stop and give Ollie some of the requested love.

It’s been about four and a half years since we moved in, and Ollie was old from the start, so you can imagine how old he is now. Yesterday, I got the number: 18. (His owner popped out of the house while I was sitting on the stoop.) Ollie has trouble walking and even sitting; he sort of topples over when I pet him. So I imagine he’s not long for his stoop.

Sigh. Ollie, Moomush, and Mushmoo: They’re all on the downward slope. I’ll miss them when they go. And on this chilly Monday morning, I’m glad they’re here.

Moomush, Smaller

Monday, January 11th, 2010

One of my gerbils lost weight. It makes me sad.

It’s Moomush, the heretofore tubby one, who was hilarious and adorable in her rodentine heft. (I love fat animals. Sue me.) Now she’s back to a somewhat normal gerbil size, which I take as a sign of aging, which makes me sad. Her fur is also less silky than it used to be—ditto Mushmoo’s.

The gerbil sisters are now two years, seven months, and I suppose they could go at any time. Hamsters and rats tend to last about two years, often less. (I think only Vivian the rat, of all my rodents, made it past the two-year mark, and just barely.) I’ve read that gerbils can live up to four. I suppose we’ll see.

But Moomush, how I miss your belly tub! And where’s your waddle? Your waddle has waned.

Sniff.

On Food and Rats

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Nope, this is not a post about Ratatouille, though I love that movie—and if anyone can locate a print of a still which shows the rats immediately post-dishwasher cleansing (in which their fur looks all steamy and soft)*, please send me the link.

*I used to have pet rats, and I gave them baths and then toweled them dry, occasionally also using the blow dryer. Good times.

This is a post about two books I read over the holidays, the first about food, the second rats:

1) My Life in France, by Julia Child. It was on John’s mom’s shelf, from which I glean every year. A fun read. We all probably know by now that Julia really knew how to live. And was in general undeterred. And had a great marriage.

And was 6’2″! With a 6’3″ sister! (The single best scene in Julie and Julia is the one in which Jane Lynch, playing Julia’s sister, gets off a train in Paris and greets her sister with a happy series of tall-woman whoops.) That kind of height could not have been easy back then. Where did they ever find shoes? Sweden.

2) Rats, by Robert Sullivan. Basically an ethnography of rats in New York City, with historical and other digressions. It’s fascinating and archly written, and mostly I gobbled it up. But once in a while I got sad about how hated rats are, and how so many are killed by people, or alternately how hard their lives are in the pack.

And I came up against some of my own limits, hearing about how many rats there are in cities, and how they can do serious damage to people, because I don’t want to think of them as anything other than the furry, warm, whip-smart lovebunnies I had for a couple of years. Sigh.

And, hey—rats played a role in my meeting John. Or at least, loving rats played a role. We were in a comedy improv class, playing one of those games where you make a statement about something you like, and whoever else also likes that thing has to get up and switch chairs.

When it was his turn, John said he liked teaching poetry to high school students, and he and I both got up. When it was my turn, I said I liked rats, and he and I both got up again. I think in the Venn diagram of poetry-loving high school teachers and rat-lovers, he and I were the only ones in the center. And now, nine years later, we are deeply in love. And we have pet gerbils.

The Silver Unitard

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

Last night I dreamed a terrible dream. This morning, I related it to John.

M: I walked into an extremely violent situation in which hundreds of people were lying on the ground, trying not to get shot, while a huge band of terrorists carrying machine guns randomly picked them off.

J: Yeesh.

M: Then a group of people to my left starts getting up and dancing what is basically a peace dance, to show the terrorists what peace can look like.

J: Nice.

M: And I know instantly that you’re going to get up and do your own dance, and that the terrorists are going to kill you. And that’s exactly what happens. You’re wearing a silver unitard, and you do your dance, and they shoot you.

J: Oops.

M: And I am so, so pissed at you.

J: Yeah.

M: Because you’re dead.

J: Yeah.

M: Because of a peace dance.

J: Yeah.

M: And then, suddenly, there’s this gigantic potted plant, and you emerge out of it, reborn.

J: Cool.

M: And I hate you even more, for being JESUS.

J: [Giggles.]

M: [Giggles.]

J: [More giggles.]

M: Let me tell you something, okay?

J: Okay.

M: When the terrorists come, do not do the peace dance.

J: Okay.

M: I mean, really. DO NOT DIE BECAUSE OF THE PEACE DANCE.

J: What about the silver unitard? Can I wear that?

I Dyed It Myself

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

We’re back!

Our 8th anniversary is in 10 days, which I say by way of telling you just how long John has been wearing clothes in my presence. Today, he comes up with a sweatshirt I’ve never seen. With an attached polo collar. In a disheartening shade of brown.

M: What’s that?

J: It’s an old work-shirt.

M: I might have guessed that.

J: I dyed it myself.

M: Aha.

J: For a monkey costume.

[Hilarity.]

J: I did a whole barrel of them!

M: You what?

J: It was the kind of dye where you have to do a lot at once, so I dyed a bunch of stuff in a trash can.

M: A trash can?

J: Over a camp fire. In my mother’s orchard.

M: Naturally!

J: For a play! In high school!

M: Quick, follow me to the computer! I have to blog about this immediately!