That which Doesn't Kill, More Grist for the Mill

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mater Familias

I finally understand why my mom drank and took pills for most of her adult life.

This is not an understanding I was hoping to come by, but well, most of what you really learn in life isn't stuff you really wanted to know, so ... hooray?

  1. She drank because she was in pain and Dr. Glenlivet made the pain go away.
  2. She took pills because she was freaked out about a.

I realized today I have a lot in common with her. I'm in pain a lot and I think of red wine as the #1 medication I have at my disposal. Seriously, and look, I'm not admitting to alcoholism here. While I worry about becoming an alcoholic pretty-much constantly, because I inherited a predisposition to alcoholism from her and I'm OCD, I don't think I'm there, yet.

In my defense, my reasons for thinking of red wine as medicine is based on medical facts and my own personal logic.

Q: What kind of stuff has caused me distress in the last few years?
A: Stomach stuff and spleen stuff.

Q: What kind of stomach stuff?
A: Food allergy and intolerances and food poisoning.

Q: What kind of spleen stuff?
A: It got really big and tried to take over my abdomen and Dr. Jones tore it from me like Caesar from the womb. I lived. Caesar (my spleen) died. Now, I'm more likely than someone with a spleen to get really sick from bacterial infections, like salmonella.

Q: What kind of medicinal qualities does red wine have?
A: Kills bad bacteria; doesn't kill good bacteria. Has anti-inflammatory effect. Calms the nerves. (Also good for the heart, but my heart is strong, like bull!, so I don't care about that.)

So, now, when I think I have eaten something bad, like today, and my gut starts to churn and I feel (um, I think the technical term is) "barfy," I reach for a glass of that most delish of bacteria killers, Malbec, in doses of roughly 250 ml a pop. And if I think I might have eaten something I'm allergic to, yep, same medicine, because the anti-inflammatory stuff could, theoretically, prevent my immune system from going kablooey.

The point (and title) of this blog was supposed to have something to do with me mum. I guess I've felt like I'm being punished by her since she died. I even entertained the idea that she might have been possessing me once. I guess the crazy thought goes something like: "I should have been a better daughter. I never had compassion for her. So she gave me problems like hers so I would." Well, now I do. So, if there was anything to that crazy thought of mine, I would hope that that she could shuffle off my mortal coil, or if she's going to stick around, at least start *helping* me out a little instead of fucking with me to teach me a lesson. Something like Dennis the ghost who lived with Cordelia on Angel. She could make me toast so I get to work on time. You know, that sort of thing.

Consider the lesson learned, Mommy Dearest. I will not use wire hangers and I will always know that you did the things you did because it was the best you could do.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Something to smile about

I am so happy about the California Supreme Court's decision. I am jubilant looking at pictures of people getting married today. It must be similar to how it felt when women won the right to vote. It is such a long time coming, such a gross injustice has been done to gay people for so long, and it is so touching to see people who love each other have a chance to express that love publicly and to be afforded the rights granted to people who choose to be mates for life.

How to spend your time for the next 20 years ...

Marcus tagged me. I'm supposed to bold the ones I've read and I've decided to italicize the ones that are on my list of books to read at some point.

I can't really tag anyone, because I don't know other people who blog who Marcus didn't already tag. So, the book stops here. ;)

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose

Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre

A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway

Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault's Pendulum

The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange

Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel

Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses

Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
To the Lighthouse

Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver's Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela's Ashes : a memoir

The God of Small Things
A People's History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter

Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel

Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas

The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye

On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down

Gravity's Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences

White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

Monday, October 15, 2007

A "giant" fuck-you

I just want to flip an enormous bird at the following people:

*Whoever started the 200 dollar pair of jeans trend
*The dumbasses who defend the 200 dollar pair of jeans trend with "they really are higher quality" justifications. Higher quality than 501s? No, they aren't. The fit might be slightly better, depending on your body type, but you are a label hooker if you think that 200 dollar jeans are worth the money. If, like me, you have actually purchased 200 dollar jeans, you did it because you are a lazy fuck, or you're smoking that pipe and thinking that the jeans you wear will unmake your middle-aged FUPA, or you're a label whore.
*The people who are charging 300,000 for a 3/2 in Marfa, Texas.
*The people who are willing to pay 300k for a 3/2 in Marfa, Texas.

It happens like this:
1. Someone grows a pair of brass ones and decides, "hey, I can charge twice what the market value of this thing is."
2. Someone is an idiot and falls for it.
3. Someone #1 tells a friend.
4. So does Someone #2.
5. A trend of outrageous inflation occurs.

Maybe this is just sour grapes on my part. Maybe I'm just pissed off that I have been effectively priced out of living in a small west Texas town just because Judd liked living there. He probably liked it because the mountain ranges near it are pretty, but he also liked it, I'm guessing, because it was fucking cheap and he was an artist. So, now, 25 artists live there and I can't.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Don't be a hater, go see sicko

Lots of people hate Michael Moore. Seriously. I don't have a lot of evidence of this fact, but that doesn't stop me from making the statement, because, hey, this is a blog, not a newspaper, and this is America, where the pundit rules.

But here are my facts, in case you're a stickler for that so-last-century notion of backing up opinions with facts:

  1. Some people made ugly faces when I told them I just saw Sicko.
  2. In that film, Moore himself references a website devoted to hating him.
  3. Type "hate Michael Moore" into Google. Almost 2 million hits. (Oddly enough, it is exactly the same number as "hate Jessica Simpson," only slightly less than "hate George Bush," and twice as many as "hate Adolf Hitler.")
  4. So, with bLogic, I think I just proved that twice as many people hate Michael Moore as hate Adolf Hitler.
So, I did some thinking about why people hate Michael Moore. After conjecture, subjective rumination, and unsubstantiated postulation (I almost just wrote "pustulation" - typos how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!), I hypothesize that the following "5-Pronged Rationale for Animosity toward Director Michael Moore" covers all the bases.

  1. He's unattractive.
    Now, I know many of you think this isn't a reason to hate someone, but if beauty is a reason to love someone or something (see Shakespeare, Byron, et al) mightn't it also be a reason to hate someone? I honestly believe that roughly 10% of the people who think they dislike Moore for any of the following less shallow reasons wouldn't hate him if he looked like Rosamund Pike or Clive Owen.
  2. He's unrelenting and annoying.
    Even fans of Mr. Moore are occasionally made uncomfortable by his interactions with his prey. Sometimes I even feel bad for really horrible people -- like pro-gun lobbyists, republican aides, and security guards -- just because he won't walk away, give up, etc. And while he's usually polite, in word if not in deed, he has a tone. An unveiled disdain for all the corporate goons and uneducated elite. Some of you haters of Michael Moore were brought up to be people-pleasers and you just cannot accept that he won't do what you would do, which is to let the corporate goons kick you out without a fight.
  3. You disagree with what he's saying based on the fact that you don't want to believe what he's saying.
    Denial is a powerful tool. Why would any of us want to accept that our country has problems? The U. S. of A., the country they taught us was a bastion of hope, the one Bush called "the hope of the oppressed and the greatest force for good on this Earth?" Why would we want to swallow the fact that we might not actually be better than everyone? And there goes Mr. Moore comparing us to other countries on the murder rate, the infant-mortality rate, life-expectancy, and other pretty-serious sounding things. He must be making it all up, right?
  4. You disagree with what he's saying based on "facts." There are a lot of websites, a lot of books, a lot of pundits on television and radio. Finding the "truth" is harder and harder. Just because it is printed in the NY Times or CNN doesn't always mean it's true, anymore, right? You have to know some one's motivations, check all of his or her facts, maybe even talk to the speaker's family, 2nd-grade teacher, rabbi, what have you, to know whether what you're reading is "true." So, these people would fall under reason #3, but they back up their opinions because they listened to a radio show, read a book or a pamphlet they picked up at an NRA fundraiser, or saw it on a well-respected blog.
  5. You don't like his style of film making. He's heavy-handed and manipulative. He basically created, or brought into the mainstream, the persuasive documentary. He isn't just going out and collecting miles of celluloid about subject matter and then finding the story somewhere in the cutting room. He forms an opinion -- maybe sometimes like the people from rationale #3 and sometimes from rationale #4 -- and then he makes a movie that proves his point. He doesn't tell a story, he rams the story down your throat, with a cheeky, blue-collar snort.
So, which are you? Have I left a reason out?

So, while I am occasionally irked by his personality, and his style of film making (which is sometimes just a little too precious -- the Guantanamo Bay scenes started out that way, but then became sincerely moving when I saw the relief and sadness on the faces of the 9-11 rescue workers), I like him. Here's why (I cannot stop making lists!):

  1. I think he's doing it for the right reasons - maybe I'm a naive idiot, but I believe he makes his movies because he loves his country and wishes that he could fix some of its problems. It can't be for the money, because he made a ton on the last one and he came back and made another - he even sent 10k to someone who hosts a website devoted to hating him.
  2. He is bringing politics to the masses in a way that is almost as easy to consume as the candy in the lobby (and if you go for the matinee, it costs less, too!).
  3. He doesn't give in or give up. He's a fat, unattractive man from a dirt-poor town and he didn't let that stop him from making his voice heard and without competing on American Idiot, er, Idol. (For fun, just close your eyes and imagine him singing "Soldier" by Destiny's Child.)
  4. He is trying to entertain, educate, and persuade all at once, and often succeeding. It's actually harder than it looks.
  5. He is looking out for the little-guy. Mainstream narrative-film directors used to do this (Capra?) but now they don't often get a chance to, or by the time they have the money and sway, they don't care anymore.

So, I like him. I liked Sicko. Go see it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

we hate it when our friends become successful

My good friend ZI mentioned me in one of her posts a few weeks back. She was a little annoyed at how good I am at my job or how hard I work or something? Anyway, I'm not bad at my job and I do stay late to get things done sometimes, but I also procrastinate and bitch and moan and spend entire afternoons updating my iPod software.

Also, when the powersthatbe think you're doing a great job, they keep piling more and more work on you, so it's not all wine and roses. It's best to be better than mediocre (because you won't get axed), but not so great that you get noticed. The pay isn't better where I'm at, and the stress is a lot worse. Plus, neither of us give a shit about this work! Why do we spend so much time and energy on it?

Anyway, today I got to feel some jealousy/bitterness, too. ZI casually mentioned that she got tickets to see a band I really like play ACL this week. I think she got the tickets because she is friends with someone in the band, but maybe she went down to UT like the rest of the bungled and the botched and was just lucky. Either way, color me green. Imagine getting to see Explosions play before 1am and not at that club I hate.

I want to say, "dude, share the wealth." But then I'll feel like a mooch. So, I'm passive-agressively posting this instead. She'll have to read it to know I was feeling this way, and maybe by the time she does read it, I won't care anymore.

revisiting those good old stages of grief

One of those weird fuct up dreams last night:

My husband, my close friend/coworker "ZI", and some other coworkers set sail on a cruise/adventure voyage. It wasn't really a cruise, because we slept in quarters that had exposed pipes/strange passageways and there weren't any all-you-can-eat buffets, discos, or botulism outbreaks. My husband disappeared from the story line for awhile.

Sometime after that, one of my male coworkers asked me if I wanted to leave the cruise to go on his private sailboat for some real sailing. He told me we would see the Canary Islands, some famous archipelago, and other natural wonders. I was initially interested, but realized that he wouldn't be returning to the ship so ZI would have to cart all of my stuff around and apparently this male coworker and I would have to drive on land quite a bit to get home - it could take weeks, he said. It started to sound like a hassle, and it dawned on me that I would be completely alone with this dude and that he would probably be putting the moves on me. I politely declined.

Then my husband reappeared. Convenient timing. I was sharing a room with ZI, but when my husband came back, naturally I was sharing the luxury cabin (looked like a boiler room, with no real walls, but separate spaces for sleeping vs. stowage of trunks) with him.

Somehow we realized that we had a) taken our pet dog and cat along with us, and b) that we hadn't given them food or water since the trip began. We freaked out, first opening their cages, and only then running around trying to block exits from the room to the rest of the ship and entrances to weird crawl spaces they could get stuck in that we couldn't get them out of. Thankfully, while we did this, they seemed very listless and weren't giving chase.

I began a noble, but anxious, quest for kibble. I found a large yellow bag of some chow mix and tried to give some to my cat. She seemed uninterested at first, so then I took some to the dog, who devoured it. When I got back to my cat, she was laying limp on the cement floor of our room and she was sticky.

All of a sudden we were back home, in our actual house and there was a group of friends sitting at the kitchen table I had when I was growing up in Cambridge (but not in the red vinyl upholstered alcove it belonged in) smoking cigarettes just like in a picture I have of my mother and her circa-1965 friends. A phone rang. Someone I don't know (who might, upon morning's recollection, have been my "godfather" - a man named Peter who I don't think I ever met) answered the phone and offered it to my husband, saying "one of the animals died. I think it was Mina."

I began wailing and then woke myself up. When I'm in this state, after a bad dream, especially one where someone I love dies or my husband leaves me, I spend a minute or two in this weird limbo between consciousness and subconsciousness. I tend to seek my husband's body warmth and to whimper. He usually extends a groggy, but well-intentioned arm around my back and I hug a pillow. It's sort of pitiful.

Once fully awake, I looked for Mina, the cat. She was alive and well, naturally and noisily cleaning her privates, as cats are often wont to do. I checked her food and water. While she had plenty of kibble, her water dish was a quite low and the bottom of the bowl felt slimy, like I hadn't cleaned it in days. I felt an awful pang of guilt, cleaned it and filled it in the dark bathroom, and headed back to bed.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

it's a family affair ...

Today I'm going to attend my cousin's daughter's (does that make her my second-cousin?) wedding. I am doing this because I'm supposed to, which feels odd, because doing things because you are supposed to is not something to which my family ever willingly surrendered.

For example, my maternal grandmother did not attend my wedding. I was told "she doesn't do weddings." (She also didn't "do" Christmas, graduation, etc.) Well, apparently she changed, because she is doing this one - but she's 10 years older now, has buried both of her children, and maybe she recognizes the importance of ritual, even if this one usually is an awkward, saccharine parade of bad clothes, hair, makeup, music, and uncomfortable moments when you run out of chit-chat at a table full of strangers. That or she had nothing better to do today.

To be fair, I didn't invite my uncle to my wedding. You are probably supposed to invite uncles of all stripes. I didn't want to invite either of mine. The short hand version of why is that one of them was rude to my mother and sister on multiple occasions and the other one made jokes about being attracted to me when I was 10 and then put a gun to my head when I was 14. So, I gave in and invited the rude one, but not the other one.

This is the crazy thing. The same woman who didn't do weddings has lobbied over the years for me to forgive her son. I don't think you are supposed to forgive people who put guns to your head or who joke about incest within hearing distance of the proposed victim. I think they should be shunned as a form of societal punishment so that people think twice about behaving that way. But, even though this woman and most of her family tree boycott doing things because you are supposed to, they also frequently extol the virtues of "family" and how we're supposed to stick together.

I've thought about why they have these opposing views - don't do things just because you are supposed to, but stick with family, because you are supposed to (except you don't have to go to your family weddings, but you do have to invite all of your family - jeesh!) - and I think it must have come from necessity, because in the case of my maternal grandmother, grandfather, and uncle -- if they didn't brainwash people to stick with them, no one would. Harsh, but true.

So today I get to see my grandmother and my cousins. Thinking about my cousins and my sister and me makes me realize we have all tried to get as far away from the family as we could. I think that all of us moved out of our parent's houses by no later than 17 years old, some went back out of financial necessity for a year or so, but then scattered to the four winds.

Most of my cousins do the requisite amount of attendance at family gatherings (which are increasingly rare), but I am curious to see whether my cousin, whose daughter is getting married today, actually shows up. It is possible that he carries on the family-tradition of eschewing tradition. I could see him saying "in my eyes you're already married, so why should I be there?" Hopefully, he will give in and do what he's supposed to.

There's something more interesting in here, something about the folklore passed down to my generation by my grandmother, mother, and uncle, that was used to try to make us think that the way we were being treated was normal. It might have been subconsciously executed, but they definitely wove a tall tale, about how we were all so very special, how our family all had genius IQs, and were all so creative, blah, blah, blah. And if you raised your hand and said, "but, I don't like the way it feels when you do this or say that," they said, "oh, you, you're soooo normal. I'm really disappointed because you had such potential."

I have to let that stew for awhile. Maybe I'll find the jewel. I realize this post was a page-long gripe, but I needed to get it out before I see them. :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

something selfish and stupid this way comes?

Reading about the declining bird species, the lost bees, and the war (pick one; no link required) has me in a mood.

Oh, no, Polly Anna. Not a good one. The mood comes from feeling completely at a loss as to what, if anything, I can DO about it and being certain that I should.

I could donate $100, maybe even $200, dollars to someone who is devoting the majority of their time to doing something about it. Would that help? Does anyone know how to help the bees find their way home? Can someone stop us from developing every spare inch of this planet so that the little bob-whites can have babies at the same rate that a Westlake soccermom can? Can anyone stop the war(s)?

I start thinking about this shit and first I start to feel heavy and trapped, my brain gets foggy(er), my vocabulary shrinks, and eventually I begin to inventory my own possessions and to mentally enter the bunker.

"That lamp? It's mine. I have 2 lbs of rice. I have $489 in my savings account. I own 12 pairs of shoes. When the shit really hits the fan, I'll need those shoes. Maybe I should go get some jeans while I still can. I should have reserves of cash. I need a gun."

As soon as I get to the gun, I switch to Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, only I'm riding the shame spiral on my way to hell in a handbasket.

"What the fuck is wrong with you? Jeans? Reserves of cash? There are little kid prostitutes in Africa who eat nothing but dick all day so their parents can buy drugs for AIDS. What you need to do is get your lazy ass involved, concerned, and active. You need to write letters. You need to stop this foolish blogging, quit your pointless, soul-less job, sell your Tivo and move to fucking Africa, you PIECE OF PAMPERED SHIT!"

So, I'm stuck in the safe, established neighborhood located between fear and self-loathing. And guess what? I will probably buy property here, and if the property tax keeps rising I will probably suck dick for a living to pay it. Because, I'll let you in on a little secret about me ... I don't want to move to Africa to save the world. Or I do, but I'd like to do it Jolie-style. I'd like to make sacrifices, but still be able to fly home to air conditioning and Wild Copper-River Salmon.

I saw Constant Gardener. Africa looks like a beautiful, amazing place. It is also looks like it is full of war, disease, famine, politics, desperation and pain. It makes me long to taste it for a minute - believing that it is raw and real in a way that my UnitedStatesian, middle-class existence will never be. But something holds me back from ever stepping over the line to be the person who does something truly unexpected or important. What is it?

If I was just selfish or stupid, like so many UnitedStatesians, like our president for example, or Jessica Simpson (I don't know that she is selfish, but it does seem like an actual deer caught in the headlights could beat her at chess), I bet I wouldn't care. Unfortunately, I'm generous and selfish and intermittently intelligent, and that adds up to a life of self-scrutiny and disappointment.

Or does it?

I don't want to go into this too much right now, but the shrink I used to see said a few wise things. She said them over and over again -- I'm not sure if that was purposeful or because she, too, had limits -- and some of them stuck with me. One was that all of us humans have the capacity for the full range of human behavior. Every one of us, under the right conditions, could be a Martin Luther King, a Jeffrey Dahmer, or a Linda Johnson (Linda Johnson is an unknown 40-something receptionist with 2 kids, who loves cats, votes republican because they believe in God, reads romance novels, and will die alone never having left her home-state when she's 75, more from boredom and loneliness than pathology).

The point of that is that I could change. I could start being more of a humming being. That's what my mom said she wanted to be (before she forgot and blew out her brains*). I guess I always thought that meant someone who vibrates with life. Someone engaged. Someone who has found their niche or niches (bitches) and who fully encompasses that space until she burns out (not fade away). Someone who leaves a mark, and not a bruise, more like a lipstick smear, an engraving, or a blood-sweat-or-cum stain.

*P.S. A sign of my emotional growth is that I almost left out the suicide-aside.