12.27.2010

the law is a bachelor

As I made the rounds telling people at my firm that I was leaving, a number of the partners told me to get in touch if/when I wanted to come back. This surprised me. I have assumed that this decision I've made is pretty irreversible; that once I leave my large law firm, I won't be able to come back. Large law firms tend to focus pretty exclusively on the fresh blood coming out of law school each year. There is some lateral hiring, but it's a small percentage of the overall hiring and it is not the subject of the massive and elaborate recruiting machine aimed at the newborn lawyers. The lateral associates who do get hired come from other firms. They are definitely not people who have been out of the large law firm scene for a few years raising kids or whatnot.

So I'm wondering what they meant. I don't take it as something people say just to be nice without meaning it at all, because partners don't say things to associates just to be nice. Especially not to associates who are jumping ship. But I do think there's an expiration date on the offer. I think it something along the lines of, "If you realize in the next 6 months that you've made a huge mistake, come on back." Maybe it could even stretch to a year or two. But there is definitely an expiration date.

Much as I enjoyed my job at times, and although there are certainly things that I will miss, I do not think there is any likelihood that I will be taking them up on the offer.

Yesterday when I was packing up my books at my parents' house--having never gotten around to moving my books out of my old room there all these years--I felt like I was putting pieces of myself back together with every book I put in a box. All those wonderful books I had almost forgotten existed. What was I doing in a job that cut me off from something I love so much? It's madness. I don't regret it, for various reasons, but I also don't think I will regret the decision to walk away from it.

12.24.2010

Farewell! a long farewell, to all my greatness!

So yesterday was my last day at work. I had a last-minute filing, and a lot of other work left to do, plus an office to pack up/clean out. (Four boxes of personal effects plus a painting and four lamps, not to mention the rug and refrigerator I gave away; 14 boxes of files to be delivered to the poor souls who inherited my work; and two very large and very full trash cans of papers to be shredded. And I was only in that office for a year -- we moved to a new building last November.) I was there until 8 pm, and left with work still to do. Yes, I gave up on finishing everything and took home a project to continue working on, despite the fact that I won't be compensated for it. I have issues.

It does feel good to walk away from all that work and know that it's someone else's job to worry about it. But I don't feel elated, free, walking on air, etc., as one might expect. I don't think it's because of the project I took with me, either. I think it's withdrawal. When I went on maternity leave a little over two years ago, it took me weeks to stop obsessively checking my email. It's hard to let go. I had to hand my blackberry over at about 3:30, and it was weirdly hard. That was something I thought I'd be thrilled to get rid of. But just before I handed it off, I looked at the picture of Nugget that was  the desktop background on it, and I thought: "But this is mine."

Walking away from my computer for the last time, knowing I would no longer be able to access my email archives, was really nerve-wracking. I am very dependent on my email archives. I certainly hope I will never need to look something up in relation to the matters that I supposedly transitioned to other people, but you never know. I gave out my personal email with all my departure memos and emphasized that they should feel free to call me if any questions arise. I know, I'm dumb. But it's not just that I don't want to burn my bridges -- although that is certainly the case. When you've spent several years conditioning yourself to be available 24-7 to provide anything that is needed ASAP, it's not easy to just turn that off.

I have more "last day" thoughts, but I also have a mound of presents to wrap. TBC.

12.19.2010

Nothing will come of nothing

This guest post on Motherlode is amazing. Perfect illustration of the level of insanity parenting has reached in today's upper classes. This obsessive mom is complaining that she is no longer allowed to participate in her three-year-olds' "extra-curricular" activities. She says she put her life on the back burner for them, so she should get to go to "preballet" and rugby class. She does say that as her kids grow up she'll be willing to let them do their own thing, but protests that 3 is too early. Maybe so. Then maybe it's too early for ballet and rugby?

When Nugget was about 18 months old, someone looked at me with horror when I said he wasn't taking any classes, like the dance class she got up at 6 AM on Saturdays to take her daughter to. Aside from the fact that he was 18 months old, he was in daycare all day 5 days a week. All the poor guy wanted was to spend a little time at home with his parents. A little unscheduled relaxation. Is that too much to ask for a kid? Maybe in twenty years he'll reproach me for blowing his chances at being a golf or tennis or gymnastic or whatever phenom. If he does, I think I'll still smile and say "you're welcome."

12.14.2010

And play the mother’s part

I'm at home with the Nugget this morning -- he was banished from daycare for having a fever yesterday. I'm sitting here enjoying his running commentary as he plays (Oh! Bow! See it? Present! Open it? Cake! Me eat it? Yes!). I had lunch with a friend yesterday who has a 16-month-old and is in that impatiently-awaiting-the-talking phase. She asked me when Nugget started talking, and I was totally unable to answer the question because at this point it seems like he's always been a chatterbox, although in fact he was slow to start talking. When I finally sussed it out, I realized that his talking didn't really take off until the beginning of August, which is not that long ago at all. It's amazing how fast everything changes for him.

Obviously this sort of thing plays a role in the mommy track aspect of my decision to leave my firm. It sucks to be missing so much at this point in his life. And I'm told it doesn't get any easier; one partner told me that his kids, now in their teens, seem to need him more than ever. (I was surprised--I would've thought teenagers wouldn't want their parents around--and he assured me that of course they don't want him, but their needs are greater than ever.) Those are two different things though -- how much Nugget needs me versus how much I want to be there. My dad is a Biglaw partner, and a workaholic, but I don't feel like he was absent when I look back on my childhood. He balanced it well. Of course, my mom was at home being a full-time mom, which makes a big difference. But I want to set aside the (very thorny and controversial) question of what is best for Nugget for a moment and just recognize this: I want to spend more time with him.(Question for another post: why does it seem harder for women to be away from their kids because of work than it is for most men?)



Turning to what Nugget needs. This is where it gets hard to sort out the politics, if you will, from the realities. First, there's what my husband and I are capable of. We are pretty awesome people by our own measure, but we're not much for organization and time management. So what my family needs is different from what works for other people. There are certainly people who can set up a wholesome routine for their kids, with home-cooked, sit-down family dinners and regular bedtimes, while both parents work at demanding jobs. That is not us.

Second, there's what my husband is capable of. I love him beyond what words can express, and he is a great dad who loves Nugget and me immeasurably, but to be blunt, he couldn't cut it as a stay-at-home dad. I hate that we failed in our reversal of traditional gender roles. I feel like I'm letting us--women, society, forward-thinking people--all down by admitting that my family needs mom at home more. But I don't know how much can be generalized from our situation. Is it that my husband didn't have a baby doll growing up? Is it that society expects him to do something different? Maybe we're an outlier and you can safely ignore us when you look at the data on gender roles.

Or maybe focusing on gender misses the point. Maybe the truth is, some people--male or female--just aren't naturally inclined to be the hearth-tender. More women might do it because we're expected to, but that doesn't mean we're any more suited to it.


I'm more suited to it than Trent, so I'm going to man up and make more time in my life to make sure we all get healthy food in our bellies, clothes that fit on our backs, and all the other necessities. Note the word necessities. I don't plan on spending all my time on this. Not just because I want more out of my life, but also because frankly, and here's where I am going to set aside my careful respect for others' choices, I don't think that sort of focus is good for anyone. I am firmly opposed to helicopter parenting. And I think when an individual is focusing all of his or her energies on parenting, the helicopter is inevitable. So I hope to find some balance. If you see me writing here about the charts I've created to track my son's development as a percentile of the rest of the population, or the monograph I'm writing on the incidence of allergies among children on an all-organic diet, please call me on it.

12.11.2010

This thing’s to do

The Announcement

I've been quitting my job for the last three days. When you're an associate at a large law firm, every partner is your boss. So when you quit, you have to tell every partner you work for or with whom you have a relationship. I've had to have the "It's been lovely but I'm leaving" (the non-burning your bridges version of the I quit speech) conversation more than a dozen times over the last several days.

But I've also been walking around with a huge grin on my face. I know I'll miss many aspects of my job, but I'm so excited to start my new life.And yeah, I'm pretty excited to leave behind the blackberry and the endless hours.

The Explanation

Here's the standard line I've developed to tell people why I'm quitting: I'm moving out of state, to northwest Washington. My husband accepted a job there as associate general counsel for a tribe, which is a great opportunity for him. I'll still be practicing some law, but I plan to focus on writing, and I'm also looking forward to spending more time with my son.

All of this is true, and all of it played a significant role in my decision. This is right for me in a number of different ways. But I wonder, each time I explain it, which part my listener is actually hearing. That I'm yet another woman abandoning her career in favor of her husband's? (I don't believe this, but I know that's what some people will hear.) That I'm yet another female lawyer with kids who found law firm life too hard on her family? (This part is true, and I know many of the people I'm talking to care deeply about this issue.) The people who seem to understand the most are probably those who have considered making a similar change, or who have at least recognized the tradeoffs they've made.

I know I'm leaving a lot on the table. Exciting, stimulating work with a salary that is totally out of scale with the rest of the world. When I go to work, I sit in a chair that cost $800, in a  private office with a view of the Chicago skyline from 40 floors up. I have a large support staff available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I get paid to think. I'm encouraged to take charge. Those are real luxuries in the labor market. Speaking of luxuries, I get paid a salary that puts most luxuries within reach. I don't worry about money. My health insurance is top of the line. And my future is even brighter, with more money and power dangling within reach.

There are cons, obviously. Going three months without a single day off is standard, and vacations are when I take work out of town with me instead of working in the office. I didn't mind so much when I was single, but that's tough when you have a family at home. And while there's something to be said for quality time versus quantity, it's hard to have quality time when you're stressed and exhausted. On top of the loss of family time there's the loss of personal time -- because when finding time to hang out with your family is that hard, reading a novel becomes the ultimate luxury.

And then there's this part: my heart's just not in it. Sure, it's fun to win. Writing a great brief can be really satisfying. And I'll admit I love the ego bump of turning our good work product, and feeling important with my fancy business cards. But I don't spend all my time thinking strategically about my cases. I don't post here about "interesting" legal issues. I don't fantasize about making a killer closing argument to a jury. It's fun, but it's not everything to me. I'm not "hungry." And I don't think you can go the distance in this job without that.

But I'm not walking away because I don't want to do what I'm doing now. I'm walking away because there's something else I'm walking toward. If you'll indulge me in a moment of overdramatic self-mythology, I have a calling. I have stories I need to tell. It's not really a matter of what I want to do. I think in some ways a lawyer's work might be more enjoyable for me. But I know that no matter how happy and successful I might be as a lawyer, I would always feel like there was something else I should be doing. Like I was betraying myself and whatever force put me on this earth. Yet I cringe to put myself in the aspiring writer category. I don't know why, it just seems cliched and overdone and ... risky. Risky because of the high probability of a very personal failure. Because it's what Keats called "smokeable" -- subject to mockery. So it's not something I talk about much. But it's a significant part of this decision. (No matter what John Grisham and Scott Turow were able to do, I don't have it in me to write a novel while working at a law firm and raising a family.)

And I know that raises the question why, if I have this supposed calling, I've gone 32 years without making any serious attempt to actually write a novel? And more importantly, why did I spend more than $120K and three years of my life on law school, if that was my true ambition? It wasn't to get my M.R.S. degree, although, if for no other reason, I will never regret law school because it's where I met my husband.


I've always told people I went to law school to punish myself. I moved to a small town in Minnesota where I had a 9 to 5 job and I didn't know anyone, and I told myself I'd either write enough to get into an MFA program or I'd give it up. After two years without writing anything, I applied to law school.

But here's what I think now: I wasn't ready. I needed to go be a lawyer for a while. I did not have the courage and confidence to try this until now.

Nor did I have the ability to make enough to pay for two months of daycare by spending a couple days writing a brief. So there's that.

Speaking of daycare, there is the mommy track piece of this. Although I do not plan on devoting my energies to making elaborate homemade Halloween costumes, volunteering on the PTA, and chauffering my son to a dozen different extracurricular activities--and I am very quick to make it clear to people that I am not shelving all career plans to be a stay-at-home-mom--the needs of my family play a not insignificant role in this.

To be continued..

12.03.2010

I do oppose/ My patience to his fury

If I needed reinforcement that I need to follow my instincts with parenting and ignore the constant hum of advice from all directions, this is it: a NY Times Style piece on parents applying The Dog Whisperer to their kids.Oh yes, because "discipline, order, and devotion" are exactly what I want to instill in the person I'm raising. I think that's Kim Jong Il's motto, too.
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I read on the facebook page of an elementary school classmate some years ago that one of the things she valued in being a mother was the unconditional love. To give her the benefit of the doubt, I would like to think she meant her unconditional love for her kids, but frankly it really didn't sound that way. I thought at the time, as the mother of an infant, that she was wrong--parents have to earn their kid's love, and they can lose it. Now, as the mother of a toddler, I find the idea ludicrous. Unconditional love? Really? I've never seen such neediness in my whole life.
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You want to hear something hilarious? I once told myself I was not going to use bribes or threats with my child.Yes,  I was going to do battle with the most cunning and persistent foe known to man or woman--the toddler--without the most potent weapons in a parent's arsenal. Silly mommy.
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I got a promotional piece from Talbot's in the mail the other day. That was bad enough, but tucked inside it was a piece of misdirected mail intended for one of my hipster neighbors: a postcard ad for "That's Weird, Grandma," presented by Barrel of Monkeys at the Neo-Futurist Theater. The juxtaposition just kills me. Not that I was ever cool enough to get mail from Neo-Futurists, but I would like to think there was a time when I was too cool to get mail from Talbot's.
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I joined a Yahoo moms' group recently, and I am seriously doubting whether it is going to lead to the sort of mommy friendships I should be cultivating. There was a flurry of emails over several days about whether one should give their kids a multi-vitamin and if so which one. Many pixels were spilled on this topic. I embarrassed myself early on, before I read the writing on the wall, with the cheerful "confession" that my son gets Costco gummy vites, and he eats 'em up like candy! Another misstep like that and I think I can kiss any playdates goodbye ...
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The tenor of this post might have already driven this point home, but may I say, for the record, that when parenting is your second job, it is damn hard to come home from a full day of stress and effort and still find within yourself the patience that a stubborn, frenetic, insistent, affectionate, adorable, infuriating toddler requires.

11.23.2010

Things I am putting off until through some drastic change in life circumstances I have more time

1. Exercise
2. Budgeting
3. Charitable giving
4. Cooking nutritious meals
5. Sewing the missing buttons back on my clothes
6. Moving my books out of my parents' house
7. Unpacking my house

8. Walking my dog

9. Reading the newspaper
10. Watching the 84 hours of tv on my dvr
11. Giving myself a pedicure
12. Doing something with the 3 month, 6 month, 9 month, 12 month, and 18 month clothing stashed here and there and everywhere
13. Deciding whether to have another kid
14. Writing in my "letters to Nugget" journal for the first time in a year and a half
15. Being nice to people

11.16.2010

The world will be thy widow

I don’t usually write much about my work because I’m hyper-aware of the confidentiality issues that would arise (not to mention that I think most people would find it quite boring) but I think it is safe for me to say that I am currently working on a case for a company that manufactures a chemical used to treat water. In other words, they perform a necessary role in the process that provides all of us with safe drinking water. Which has highlighted some interesting issues for me in relation to the idea of “opting out” that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

My work often involves delving into the minutiae of other people’s working lives. I read their (work-related) (usually) emails, pore over their spreadsheets and powerpoints, and interrogate them about what they do and how and why. This can lead to what might be described as a fleeting moment of existential contemplation. The apparent futility of so much of what so many people do day in and day out is quite striking when you can catch a glimpse of it from a remove. Even if you could make the case that the labors of legions of paper-pushers are essential to the manufacture of their employer’s product, then what? Without them, for example, we wouldn’t have plastic bottles? Or missile launchers? Is that a bad thing?

But clean drinking water? You can’t argue with that. What it brings home to me is that opting out is a privilege. Where would we be if everyone decided to take a pass on the work required to make our lives possible? In a world without an affordable and convenient supply of clean drinking water.

Does that mean no one should opt out? Artists make a meaningful contribution. But can’t you make art and work? Surely stay at home moms are doing something worthwhile. But do they add any value that a working mom doesn’t have? This sort of thinking was part of what led me to leave my job in publishing to go to law school. It was not, I admit, very clearly thought out, but I did have a vague idea that I wanted to be making a more concrete contribution to the work of the world.

On an individual level, opting out seems like a perfectly valid choice to me. You forgo some things: some level of economic security and luxury (to the extent those are different), most likely. But you do it for the sake of quality of life. On a macro level though, can it be justified? Or is it, simply, selfish?

11.10.2010

Not sure what to think about this

Nugget (my two-year-old) put a garbage can on his head and said "I'm a woman."

I am pretty sure I didn't find it as funny as my husband did, although I did laugh. And then I contemplated explaining to him that it was offensive and decided to get over it and let it go ... he is two, after all. A luttle early to be explaining the politics of sex and gender.

11.02.2010

Random quickies, partially illustrated

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The "Your toddler" e-newsletter I get from the hospital where Nuggest was born says I "should not be alarmed" that my toddler is developing an imagination. "He is not confusing a sofa cushion for a fluffy cloud--he is allowing his imagination to stretch itself out and find new ways to play!" What a relief.
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One of the windows on the front of the new public library in my neighborhood looks into this little vestibule with a couple of doors. Architecturally speaking, that's weird enough. But it's a refurbished vintage building, so I guess it wasn't planned that way. Much weirder: In the corner of the room there is a giant (like, 8 feet high) mound of something that looks *exactly* like a pile of dirty snow/frozen slush with a layer of fresh snow on top. If you are from a midwestern city you know wat I'm talking about. All the snow gets pushed into these massive piles by the snowplows, and because they're so big they don't melt for pretty much the whole winter. But they get really dirty and also sort of dehydrated. The surface gets all pockmarked, which is emphasized by the greasy black grime that has stuck to it. It's really gross. But whatever this is in the library vestibule, it looks exactly like that. With, as I said, a fresh layer of snow partially covering the grimy dried out ness. Is the vestibule a walk-in freezer in which one of these snowdrifts is being preserved fo god knows what reason? Is it "art"? A recreation for a museum of weather-related novelties?
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I saw the snowdrift exhibit when I went to the library to vote this morning. Nugget tagged along--his first experience of democracy. He didn't seem very excited. After we left he asked "Mommy vote?" (Which sounded more like "Mommy boat?") -- as if to say, so are you going to vote now that we're done with that boring thing at the library?
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Not a minimalist:

I don't know where he gets it:

 
We call this pile of sh-t "the library."

10.31.2010

More matter with less art

As my eighth grade graduation approached, my parents decided, for reasons that are a whole 'nother story, to let me choose where I wanted to go to high school. (A decision they later regretted, but that's yet another whole 'nother story.)

I chose a school at which I did not know anyone and no one knew me. I don't think that's why I chose it -- as I recall it had a lot to do with hearing that you could do anything you wanted at the school, like, even walk out of the classroom to go to the bathroom without raising your hand for permission! which appealed to me as a lifelong student at Catholic schools, and most recently an all-girls Catholic school, at which, just to give an example, it was the norm for every single student to say "thank you Mrs./Mr./Sr. So-and-so" to the teacher as we filed out of a classroom (in single file. of our own accord.) to go to our next class.

For whatever reason, at any rate, I ended up a stranger in a strange land, with nothing but my severely under-developed social skills to make my way. But a few weeks before classes started, I started going to swim practices. This was a good way to make friends, right?

Unfortunately, the high school I had chosen was in fact a K-12, meaning that many of the people I was going to school with had known each other since kindergarten. They'd had ten years in which to develop a complex caste system, about which I knew nothing. Indeed, having never been in a school with more than 30 kids per grade, I knew little about such systems in general, much less the specifics of who I must never, ever be seen talking to, and who I must not attempt to talk to absent express invitation or until I had sufficiently established my own equal or superior place on the ladder that I could so presume without invitation.

Unfortunately for me, many of the other freshman girls on the swim team, whom I attempted, clumsily, to befriend, happened to be at or near the very pinnacle of this caste system. Imagine their surprise and disdain at my advances! Imagine my confusion and terror! Oh, the hilarity and shame that ensued.

Among my many faults that made this endeavor so spectacularly unsuccessful was that I had a propensity to tell stories that did not proceed logically to a punch line, moral, or climax, or otherwise have any apparent point. These sorts of pointless stories became known as "Anne stories." At least, that's my impression, since it was behind my back.

I still tell Anne stories, although people are too polite to tell me so, and, one hopes, too grown up to say so behind my back. It's particularly amusing/painful/ironic because I would like nothing more to make my living as a storyteller. Sometimes that worries me a little. Other times I think, well, doesn't much of literature feel pretty pointless? I have twice now attempted to read Ulysses and abandoned the endeavor because of its (somehow frantically energetic, but still) narrative inertia.

Which is where the irony really gets going. Literature doesn't always have much of a plot, but personally, I think it should. I don't read books without plots. I used to force myself to do it, because I was pretentious, but I've decided life is too short and I have too little time to read and there are way too many books in the world for me to waste time reading books I'm not enjoying.

So is it possible to write books you don't want to read? Or at least, is writing a book without a plot more interesting than reading a book without a plot? I hope so.

10.30.2010

Let us sit and mock the good housewife Fortune

Once upon a time there was this idea that dropping out of the "rat race" and retreating to some simpler, typically rural, life, was a virtuous and worthy path. It's a concept that dates back to the early days of literature (see, e.g., As You Like It, Virgil's Eclogues), and it seems to me that it was a theme that was popular in the late 80s/early 90s (see, e.g., Funny Farm, Baby Boom), presumably in reaction to the cocaine-fueled corporate excesses of the 80s.

Is it just me, or is that concept pretty much dead? Now high-powered executives can work from their ranches in Montana, and small towns in Iowa are better known for their meth labs than quaint bucolic virtue. And now the idea of "opting out" is associated with the emotionally fraught, highly controversial debate about well-educated, professional women dropping out of the work force to be stay-at-home moms.

That debate seems to be structured bilaterally: the benefits of and joys of spending time with your kids if you can afford it, versus the wastes and risks for the woman's career and economic prospects. But tossing the pastoral concept in there has the potential to shift the conversation away from sex and gender roles, which is what makes it so emotional and controversial, toward this well-established and very respectable idea of lifestyle choices and spiritual/philosophical space.

It does strike me, though, that we Americans with our Protestant ethic may never have been comfortable with the pastoral. Contemplation can look a lot like sloth. And take one of my examples above, Baby Boom: Diane Keaton's character starts out leaving behind her high-powered profession, but after she goes to the country and finds herself she becomes a very successful entrepreneur. So much for the contemplative life.

Maybe the difference is that now there isn't even the expectation that you might "opt out" of something by moving out of corporate America and the urbs and suburbs. You can physically move to the woods, but you'll be taking your laptop with you, so what's the point?

10.26.2010

We must not make a scarecrow of the law

Gmail thinks I'm interested in (1) law school; (2) funding for my short sale; and (3) cruises. Is it just me, or are those three things contradictory? Well, I guess law school and short sales are pretty compatible.

Also there are recent conversations about law school and refinancing a mortgage in my email, so two of those are at least reasonable guesses. But the cruise has me mystified. Of course, of the three, it is also the most compelling. Maybe Gmail throws the cruise in randomly, figuring everyone is tempted by a cruise. Or maybe when two of your ad topics are really depressing, they figure you might need a cruise.

But I'd like to think that Gmail is wiser and kinder than that. I'd like to think that GMail thought I was refinancing to pay for law school and dangled the cruise in the hope that I'd throw over my law school plans and blow the money on a cruise instead. Aw. Gmail doesn't want me to go to law school! Gmail really does care.

10.18.2010

Beware the foul fiend

From Nick Reding's Methland:
Visible in the semidarkness were fine bones and bright, shining blue eyes around which Jarvis's skin had liquefied and reset in swirls. He rubbed at where his nose had been and coughed violently. Jarvis had just smoked a hit of meth by holding the glass pipe with his rotted teeth. Using what was left of his right hand, he jostled the lighter until it wedged between the featureless nub of his thumb and the tiny protrusion of what was once his pinkie, managing somehow to roll teh striker of the red Bic against the flint. Suddenly, his eyes were as wildly dilated as a patient waiting in the low light of an opthalmologist's office. ... He was always cold, he said, and hadn't slept more than three hours at a time in years. His skin was still covered in open, pussing sores. He had no job and no hope of getting one. The last time he "went uptpwn," as he calls going to a Main Street bar, was eighteen months earlier. That night he was in his old hangout, teh Do Drop Inn, when another customer hit Jarvis in the face because he wanted to know what it was like to slug a man with no nose.
(What is dogeared?)

10.09.2010

Caught II

video

(This doesn't show up very well on some monitors, but if you'll take my word for it, this is further evidence that the Chicago Bureau of Rodent Control is losing the battle. As Trent points out, it is also evidence that I broke the leash-your-dog law. No need to prosecute though, I'll get my comeuppance when the dog gets bitten by one of the giant alley rats she likes to chase.)


10.07.2010

Dogeared

From Naomi Wolf's The Silent Treatment, New York Magazine, March 1, 2004
There is something terribly wrong with the way the current sexual-harassment discussion is framed. Since damages for sexual misconduct are decided under tort law—tort means harm or wrong—those bringing complaints have had to prove that they have been harmed emotionally. Their lawyers must bring out any distress they may have suffered, such as nightmares, sexual dysfunction, trauma, and so on. Thus, it is the woman and her “frailties” under scrutiny, instead of the institution and its frailties....

If we rephrase sexual transgression in school and work as a civil-rights and civil-society issue, everything becomes less emotional, less personal. If we see this as a systemic-corruption issue, then when people bring allegations, the focus will be on whether the institution has been damaged in its larger mission.
(What is dogeared?)

these headstrong women

Forbes' list of the 100 most powerful women is out, and I really enjoyed clicking through the gallery. It's heartening to see so many women leading corporations and nations around the world. Of course, there are a number of irritating inclusions, like Lady Gaga (#7!!), Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, and Gisele Bundchen.

I thought maybe I was being unfair to Gisele--maybe she founded a think tank I don't know about?--so I read her full profile. The first sentence says it all: "One of the best-paid new mothers of 2010, the supermodel raked in $25 million in the year she gave birth to her first son, Benjamin, with NFL quarterback Tom Brady." Oh -- mother, supermodel, wife? That explains it. Yes, definitely up there with Christiane Amanpour, who follows her at #73. And then there's this gem to round out Ms. Bundchen's profile: she "caused a ruckus on the mommy blogs when she was quoted as saying, 'There should be a worldwide law, in my opinion, that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months.'" It's a good thing she's not as powerful as Forbes would like to think.

Broadsheet criticizes the prominent inclusion of marital status and number of children in each woman's profile. I agree in principle with the criticism, but to be honest I find the information pretty interesting. I vote they include it when they profile men to equal things out, rather than dropping it from the women's profiles. Maybe then we can stop thinking that work-family balance is a women's issue?

10.05.2010

’Tis better to be vile than vile esteem’d

The other night I went out in my pajamas at about 10 o’clock at night to get wine, ice cream, and jellybeans. There is a very reasonable back story there, but it's not the point of my story. I was wearing Trent’s polartech over my pajamas, my hair was in a messy bun, and I think I even had my glasses on, although I rarely wear my glasses in public. In short, I was not exactly looking my best. (I would like to think this is relevant.) 

I picked out my wine and my ice cream and jelly beans and got in line, clutching my goodies, behind a guy who looked to be at least 30, with long hair, a nose ring, and combat boots. He was buying a six pack of beer and a sack of potatoes. And he was arguing with the store clerk because his driver’s license was expired. He told her that was all he had because his wallet had been stolen, and he showed her his social security card as further evidence that the expiration of his license had not altered his age. She didn't budge. So I’m standing there, thinking, that’s really silly, and maybe I should buy the beer for him. But I live in a city and people don’t do nice things for strangers in cities. Even in Chicago, the nicest of cities. It would probably turn out awkwardly, I thought. But when my turn came and the guy was still standing there counting his change, I gave in to the impulse and asked the clerk for the beer she’d put behind the cash register. The guy looked at me, and seemed to give a half smile of recognition, and I gave a half smile to acknowledge what I thought was our silent pact, and then when I’d finished paying, I turned around and he was gone. No problem, I thought, he’s probably waiting outside the door. Nope. Gone. 

And, really, I can’t blame him. A woman buying wine and ice cream in her pajamas at 10 o’ clock at night wants to buy him some beer? I guess I’d run like hell too. 

So I ended up with a six-pack of Busch that I never intended to buy. Now, Trent and I are pretty snobby about beer. So I was pretty annoyed to end up with Busch, although I did count myself fortunate that it wasn’t Busch Light. Plus, it only cost me $4, so that's something. And when I tried it, I was actually pleasantly surprised that it was less like water than I expected. And yet it had a terrible aftertaste: the sour flavor of rejection, with a hint of regret for the lost beauty of youth. And a dash of irritation because I wasn’t actually even trying to hit on the guy, goddamnit, I was just trying to be nice. 

9.29.2010

A merrier hour was never wasted there

Best Books for a two-year-old (aka the books my son is making me read over and over ad infinitum right now):
1. Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton
Blue Hat, Green Hat
We've read this so many times Nugget can "read" it to me. He screams with laughter when we get to the "oops." "Silly turkey!" I say, and explain why it's silly: "His pants are on his head! His shirt is upside-down! You can't go swimming in your clothes!" "Kurkey!" Nugget yells and falls over laughing. Every. single. time.

2. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell (with lift-the-flaps)
Dear Zoo: A Lift-The-Flap Book [DEAR ZOO 25TH ANNIV/E-LIFT]
The flaps on our copy are battered and torn, but it still holds its charm for Nugget. This was a favorite even a year ago, when I sought out and bought ever lift-the-flap book I could find because it was one of the few ways a book could hold his attention. Now as we read it I ask him to name all the animals and we talk about the sounds they make.

3. Biggest Word Book Ever by Richard Scarry
Richard Scarry's Biggest Word Book Ever!
This book is bigger than Nugget, and he loves to sit on top of it on the floor while we use it to teach him new words. Also to walk and jump on it and turn it into a tent.

4. My First ABC by MOMA
My First ABC

I have been dissatisfied with a lot of alphabet books because they don't use enough easily recognizable pictures, but this one is pretty good (with some exceptions, like "ex" for X which is really dumb and "zigzag" for Zwhich is a little absract and "ox" for O because even I don't know the difference between a cow and an ox and how hard is it to find a better picture for O?). The uppercase and lowercase letters are at the bottom of each page so I can point to them and say the letter and then ask Nugget to identify the picture. Plus I get to look at some art, which is never a bad thing, especially when you are reading the same book every night for months.

5. Machines at Work by Byron Barton

Machines at Work
We have every board book about trucks that exists, and this is Nugget's favorite right now. It shows several different kinds of trucks and how they are used, and takes you through the workers' day from starting work in the morning to lunchtime to going home for the night. We like to add sound effects and bang on the book to act out the wrecking ball and jackhammers.

9.28.2010

It is an honour that I dream not of

Finally!
Everyone is happy but Kiara.

















Now on to Foe #2.













Sigh.
*******
While I was in the alley doing my rat paparazzi thing I hit on a pithy comment about gender to write about here and now it is totally gone. Which means I can continue to believe it was extraordinarily witty and insightful, so that's just fine with me. But it also means I am back to feeling I have to write a long-overdue, thoughtful post on work-life balance issues, supposedly the main focus of this blog and something I haven't written about in forever. Forever as in, since before I stopped posting here for several months because I was too busy working. Heh.

I went to the dentist today (sidenote. I shouldn't admit this but I go to the dentist so seldom that they keep putting my chart in storage. that's work-life balance for you, folks.) and during one of those mostly one-sided conversations one has with dental professionals I had this classic encounter with the hygienist.
Her: You look tired. What do you do for a living?
Me: I'm a lawyer.
Her: I'm so sorry. What kind of law do you practice?
Me: I help big companies sue each other.
Her: Ohh, I'm so sorry. You don't have kids, do you?
Me: I have a two-year old.
Her: Oh god.
Me: ... gargle
Her: What does your husband do?
Me: He's a lawyer.
Her: Oh my god.

Afterward I headed over to my son's daycare since I was done with work early and Trent was on his way there. The director of the day care center commented that they'd been seeing me more lately. I explained that I'd been working less and she said that's great.

So. I'm trying to recall why I felt so judged in both these conversations, and I'm not finding any evidence of judgment in what was said. Which doesn't mean it wasn't there, but does probably mean that how I felt had a lot more to do with me than anything they said.

Yesterday I was discussing working vs. being a stay-at-home mom with a (childless, female) friend, who had floated the idea (can't remember if it was hers or from a book she'd read) that women often become stay-at-home moms because work gets hard, and staying home seems like an acceptable alternative; whereas a man might just stick it out. This seems plausible to me, though unpleasant. I also think this difference in expectations may be why women seem to have a harder time with the things they're missing at home because of work. Men seem to shrug it off more easily, perhaps because they never thought being home was a real alternative for them. Men are supposed to bring home the bacon, so they don't worry about whether they're doing the right thing when they miss baby's first steps because they're off on a bacon hunt. I'm not sure that makes the "male" attitude about it right. On the other hand I am increasingly convinced that any inclination I have to stay home is more for my benefit than my son's. Which is kind of a whole post in itself. (copout.)

9.25.2010

Dogeared

From Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle:
For a while I wanted to be an opera singer. Even though they were fat they could wear extravagant costumes, nobody laughed at them, they were loved and praised. Unfortunately I couldn't sing. But it always appealed to me: to be able to stand up there in front of everyone and shriek as loud as you could, about hatred and love and rage and despair, scream at the top of your lungs and have it come out music. That would be something.
(What is dogeared?)


9.22.2010

O Cæsar! these things are beyond all use, And I do fear them

This is terrifying.

It may seem incredible to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States. That is what I am saying. From a very young age and through his formative years, Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction. He came to view America's military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation. He adopted his father's position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder. Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America. In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America's power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe's resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet.

http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0927/politics-socialism-capitalism-private-enterprises-obama-business-problem_3.html

Yes, you read that link correctly. This is from Forbes. Not Rightwing Extremists' Weekly. Not even Fox News. Forbes. I am really frightened for us.

9.15.2010

ho! A foe to tyrants, and my country s friend

I am considering renaming this blog "Ratquest: The Resistance" or "The Bureau of Rodent Control: A Case Study in Ghost Payrolls of the Chicago Political Machine" and using it to chronicle my vain attempts to get the city to bait the rats that have colonized my alley. My alley is like Eden before the fall, if Adam and Eve had hairless tails: vacant lots full of weeds and restaurant garbage that has to be violating multiple city codes.

***

In other news. One of my webmail accounts was hacked, for the second time in like two months. Is it paranoid that I think someone is cyberstalking me? Is it ever normal to be paranoid?

***

Also, I seem to be doomed to romantic entanglements with men who obsess with DFW. What is it about me that appeals to men who love self-sabotaging hyper-intellectualism? That is certainly not me, self-sabotaging part aside. Maybe it's my footnotes.

9.14.2010

Caught


My nemesis. One of many. Gross.

9.08.2010

Enter Hymen

I don't understand why the deus ex machina gets such a bad rap. I could totally go for some contrived, unconvincing, and gimmicky resolution right now.

***Please combat the recidivism of youth offenders in Illinois by voting at http://www.refresheverything.com/TabulaRasa for my nonprofit to win $250K from Pepsi to build a transitional living center for teens leaving jail!***

9.07.2010

Dogeared

From Jonathan Franzen's Freedom:
She was a grave and silent little person with the disconcerting habit of holding your gaze unblinkingly, as if you had nothing in common.

As she talked on and on, he found himself admiring her determination to survive without success of the sort still plausibly available to him.

He could see this person so clearly, it was like standing outside himself. . . . This wasn't the person he'd thought he was, or would have chosen to be if he'd been free to choose, but there was something comforting and liberating about being an actual and definite someone, rather than a collection of contradictory potential someones.

But nothing disturbs the feeling of specialness like the presence of other human beings feeling identically special.
(What is dogeared?)

***Please combat the recidivism of youth offenders in Illinois by voting at http://www.refresheverything.com/TabulaRasa for my nonprofit to win $250K from Pepsi to build a transitional living center for teens leaving jail!***

9.01.2010

All is but toys

Best birthday gifts for a two-year-old boy or girl who is obsessed with firemen, trucks, trains, and construction:

1. Sand table, big enough for trucks but small enough for our balcony


2. Fire truck, with working water hose



3. Train Table Set, compatible with Brio & wooden Thomas


4. Fire Rescue Playset, complete with lounge chair, basketball hoop, computer, and--is that a barbeque?



5. Ride-on Exacavator, so your spoiled child can dig his way out of the mountain of toys ...





8.31.2010

How now! a rat?

Seven fascinating facts about rats. (Inspired by my personal crusade against the rat colony in my alley.)


1. The so-called Norway rat--which is actually from Mongolia (and is the species found in Chicago, my foes)--arrived in North America on ships from Europe in the 18th century.

2. Rats box -- they rear up and push each other with their forepaws. It is not known whether they gamble on the bouts.

3. In 19th century England, rat baiting was popular: the rats were placed in a pit with a dog and wagers were placed on which dog would kill the most rats.

4. What about the ROUS’s? Fossil remains of a rodent that lived in South America 4 million years suggest a creature more than 8 feet long and weighing 2,000 pounds.

5. In the 1970s, Chicago’s Bureau of Rodent Control killed rats by pumping cyanide gas into their burrows and beating them to death with broomsticks when they came out for fresh air.

6. Rats occasionally surface in city toilets. Seriously, this is not an urban legend. There are youtube videos.

7. You can register your “fancy rat.”

***Please combat the recidivism of youth offenders in Illinois by voting at http://www.refresheverything.com/TabulaRasa for my nonprofit to win $250K from Pepsi to build a transitional living center for teens leaving jail!***

8.30.2010

a bootless inquisition

"God, babies are annoying."
(what I thought when I held my three-month-old niece for the first time and she spit up on me)

"God, babies are irrational."
(what I thought when I held my three-month-old niece and she kept crying for no apparent reason)

"Had you forgotten?"
(what my husband said to me when I expressed the above)

"Yes."
(my response)

"Only child psychological effects"
(what I googled)

***Please combat the recidivism of youth offenders in Illinois by voting at http://www.refresheverything.com/TabulaRasa for my nonprofit to win $250K from Pepsi to build a transitional living center for teens leaving jail!***

8.27.2010

Limbo

Question: What does hell's waiting room for unbaptized souls have to with doing backbends under a broomhandle?

***Please combat the recidivism of youth offenders in Illinois by voting at http://www.refresheverything.com/TabulaRasa for my nonprofit to win $250K from Pepsi to build a transitional living center for teens leaving jail!***

8.24.2010

a most triumphant lady

Scroll all the way down and ask yourself why Chicago is so underrated, even by Chicagoans. I've left this city without sentiment many times, and have tried to leave many more, forgetting how much I would miss it once I'm gone.


***Please combat the recidivism of youth offenders in Illinois by voting at http://www.refresheverything.com/TabulaRasa for my nonprofit to win $250K from Pepsi to build a transitional living center for teens leaving jail!***

8.21.2010

Dogeared

From Bill Buford's Heat:
"What in the name of my testicles," he said finally, in a low, controlled voice, "is this dish on the menu?"
Filippo glanced casually in Dario's direction. "What in the dick are you talking about?" (Che cazzo dici?) he asked lightly, continuing the line of genitalia metaphors that so robustly characterize male Tuscan exchnges.
"You fat head of a penis," Dario said loudly. "Why is this on your menu?"

You don't tell a romantic that it can all be explained by economics--especially when the romantic is your host. What's more, the romantic might be right: maybe it wasn't all economics. Maybe economics itself was a metaphor, a pseudo-scientific way of acounting for something much more mysterious, this profound, dark thing Giovanni referred to as the Tuscan soul.

(What is dogeared?)

***Please combat the recidivism of youth offenders in Illinois by voting at http://www.refresheverything.com/TabulaRasa for my nonprofit to win $250K from Pepsi to build a transitional living center for teens leaving jail!***

8.16.2010

Get thee to a nunnery

Joseph O’Neill’s review [caution: the last paragraph contains a spoiler for The Driver’s Seat], in the September Atlantic Monthly, of a new biography of novelist Muriel Spark has this interesting discussion about female writers and their children:


Spark provided for her son financially and would drop by in Edinburgh from time
to time, but she never even tried to combine a mother’s usual responsibilities
with those of a writer. She remained on red alert against that enemy of promise,
a son’s need for a full measure of love. The pram in the hall could squash
someone else.

Of course, rarely is anyone much detained by the parental flaws of
male writers—of Spark’s contemporary Saul Bellow, say. But the case of Spark
chimes interestingly with that of Doris Lessing. Lessing was born in 1919,
married at the age of 19, languished in Southern Rhodesia, abandoned (two)
offspring in search of freedom, and ended up in postwar London trying to care
for a third child while making a living and a professional name for herself. (If
Virginia Woolf had trouble finding a room of her own, imagine being broke and
un-Bloomsbury.) In one of her memoirs, Lessing suggests: “Writers, and
particularly female writers, have to fight for the conditions they need to
work.” This sounds like an understatement, particularly in relation to the last
pre-feminist generation, to which she belonged. Dipping into it, we see that
Penelope Fitzgerald, a mother of three, did not publish until the age of 58,
that Iris Murdoch and Flannery O’Connor and Patricia Highsmith were childless.
Spark may not have been alone in associating motherhood with artistic and
personal annihilation.

I had this idea that giving birth might unleash my artistic fertility. I don’t think it had any basis in reason or experience. I guess it was more like wishful thinking. Certainly it has not happened. The difficulty of balancing motherhood and artistic endeavor is weighing on me particularly heavily right now. I want to have a second child, for various reasons, but I recognize that those plans are incompatible with my desire to carve out space in my life for writing.

On the other hand, I still cling to the idea that if I could just find the time, some part of the obstacles that dam my creativity have been washed away by motherhood. This, again, does not seem to be based in reason or experience, and may be wishful thinking. It’s just a powerful analogy in my mind. The fusing of body and spirit inherent in giving birth, the physical act of building another human being within myself and pushing him out into the world—surely the ripples of that impact have expanded out and washed over my soul, leaving it renewed and energized and ready, finally, to fulfill the ache to create?

***Please combat the recidivism of youth offenders in Illinois by voting at http://www.refresheverything.com/TabulaRasa for my nonprofit to win $250K from Pepsi to build a transitional living center for teens leaving jail!***

8.14.2010

Dogeared

From Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders:

"His whole life was confined by these things."

"I put my face to their necks and breathed the yeasty scent of them. God warns us not to love any earthly thing above Himself, and yet He sets in a mother's heart such a fierce passion for her babes that I do not comprehend how He can test us so."

"It was a voice full of light and dark. Light not only as it glimmers, but also as it glares. Dark not only as it brings cold and fear, but also as it gives rest and shade."

(What is dogeared?)

***Please combat the recidivism of youth offenders in Illinois by voting at http://www.refresheverything.com/TabulaRasa for my nonprofit to win $250K from Pepsi to build a transitional living center for teens leaving jail!***

8.12.2010

A gift that heaven gives

Every year, dozens of spiders hang out on outside my office window, 44 floors up. It's amazing. It always makes me think of Charlotte's babies flying away, calling "Goodbye, goodbye!" to Wilbur as he yelled for them to come back.

***Please combat the recidivsm of youth offenders in Illinois by voting at http://www.refresheverything.com/TabulaRasa for my nonprofit to win $250K from Pepsi to build a transitional living center for teens leaving jail!***

8.11.2010

thither would I hie

Top 3 things I want to say in my "all personnel - all offices" farewell email if and when I leave my firm:

1. I am moving to a yurt in Montana, where I will be embarking on a new career as a deputy sheriff.
2. I am leaving to work on my forthcoming expose, Law Firm Confidential.
3. Please contact me if you need local counsel in Kauai.


***Please combat the recidivsm of youth offenders in Illinois by voting at http://www.refresheverything.com/TabulaRasa for my nonprofit to win $250K from Pepsi to build a transitional living center for teens leaving jail!***

8.09.2010

Not mad, but mated

Trent and I just got back from a week in Hawaii and this is how good it was: I forgot my blackberry there. I think it was the best vacation I've ever had. I reconnected with old friends, made new friends (which almost never happens given the antisocial tendencies my husband and I share), spent invaluable time with my husband sans Nugget, drank in inexpressibly gorgeous nature at every turn--from rainbows to sea turtles to lava rock strewn beaches to canyons to waterfalls and on and on. And, most importantly, I did not do any work at all. None. Which may be a first for me since I started my current job: a real, uninterrupted vacation. I attribute it to the magic of Kauai. I want to go back, immediately. Nugget can come this time. But I think I'll leave the blackberry here, just in case.

I got a little tired of people asking me whether it was hard to be away from Nugget. Of course I missed him, but it really was not hard. What's hard is nurturing my relationship with my husband while raising a toddler and working insane hours. Taking a vacation together without him was as much for him as for us -- he needs his parents to be have a strong relationship so we can be a loving family for him. Not that I said any of that to anyone. Maybe I should have.

I got my baby fix there from a scrumptious pair of six-month-old twin boys that belonged to my friend's sister. They were the most consistently happy babies I have ever seen. They may have been drugged. Or on the payroll of the Society for the Advancement of Reproduction, dancing us all down the path to procreation with their siren song of sweetsmelling, chubby-thighed contentment and then WHAM here comes your own newborn with a nasty case of colic. Babies. They are tricky little devils. But I'm onto them.

***Please combat the recidivsm of youth offenders in Illinois by voting at http://www.refresheverything.com/TabulaRasa for my nonprofit to win $250K from Pepsi to build a transitional living center for teens leaving jail!***

8.08.2010

sound and fury

Yesterday at the beach Nugget pointed behind me and said "broken." (Actually it sounded more like 'bwoten" but I knew what he meant.) I looked and saw a man sitting under a tree, with nothing broken apparent around him.
"What's broken?" I asked Nugget.
"Man."
"The man is broken?"
"Man. Broken."
"That's sad," Trent said.
"Broken man sad." Nugget repeated for the next several hours.

Encouraged by this evidence that children possess unique psychic abilities, presumably because they were between lives so recently, I started questioning Nugget about whether he remembered meeting Jesus. The only response I got sounded like "hmmmm." Which probably indicates that Nugget was under orders not to share his knowledge of the universe with nosy parents. Trent's response to my questions was more articulate: "you're scaring me."
I'm so excited that Nugget has reached the age when he says amazing things. Finally, it's his turn to entertain us. I may actually get around to blogging once in a while now that he's feeding me material.

Which reminds me of an incident both Trent and I meant to blog about several months ago but neither of us ever got around to. (Reasons not to marry your perfect match.) Trent and Nugget came on a business trip to San Francisco with me (note to my employer: but I didn't charge any of their expenses to the client and I worked very hard). After I finished working very hard, we wandered around the Haight and got coffee at a little cafe with sidewalk tables next to a large mural painted on the wall. The mural looked like a rainbow from far away but up close you could see that each band of color was formed by a throng of creatures, a different creature for each color. It appeared to depict evolution -- the first band was amoeba-like organisms, then fish, amphibians, through to humans, and finally what I took to be angels taking flight. Two drunk/high hobo/hippie types (I think the Haight Tourist Authority was paying them to be there) stood in front of the mural discussing it with great reverence. One said the different bands of the rainbow represented stages of life, and that the angels--which he called ghosts--symbolized death. "Shhh," said the other one, indicating Nugget playing nearby. "Don't let the kid hear." As if death were a naughty word that must not be spoken before the children.

Earlier we had heard this delightful pair discussing Cherokees. Specifically, they were discussing whether Cherokees exist. "No man," one insisted, "Cherokees aren't real. They're like Eskimos." Whereupon further argument ensued. Terrible and yet so awesome.

5.05.2010

Dogeared

Kelly Link's "The Faery Handbag," in Magic for Beginners:

If clothes are good, or even if they're bad in an interesting way, The Garment District is where they go when they die. You can tell that they're dead, because of the way they smell. When you buy them, and wash them, and start wearing them again, and they start to smell like you, they reincarnate.

...

The funeral parlor had made her up with blue eyeshadow, and blue eyeliner. She looked like she was going to be a news anchor on Fox television, instead of dead. It was creepy and made me even sadder than I already was.

...

I'll explain why, but you have to be patient. It's hard work telling everything in the right order.

4.22.2010

I am no great Nebuchadnezzar

3 random things is all I have time for:


1. My firm's dinner buffet (yes, we have a dinner buffet) is serving what they call a chopped salad. It contains: romaine, grilled chicken, bacon, tomatoes (so far so good), tortilla strips, and macaroni.


2. The word "Obama" is apparently now a talisman that can be used to ward off douchebags.


3. Today I am thinking about how being a nice person requires time, and it is much harder to be a nice person when time is the thing you lack most. (And yes, I value being nice.)

3.25.2010

Dogeared

From Jean Rhys, The Collected Short Stories:
From "A Solid House":

But are you telling me the real secret, how to be exactly like everybody else? Tell me, for I am sure you know. If it means being deaf, then I'll be deaf. And if it means being blind, then I'll be blind. I'm afraid of that road, Miss Spearman--the one that leads to madness and to death, they say. That's not true. It's longer than that. But it's a terrible road to put your feet on, and I'm not strong enough; let somebody else try it. I want to go back. Tell me how to get back; tell me what to do and I'll do it.

From "Temps Perdi":

Now I am almost as wary of books as I am of people. They also are capable of hurting you, pushing you into the limbo of the forgotten. They tell lies-- and vulgar, trivial lies--and when there are so many all saying the same thing they can shout you down and make you doubt, not only your memory, but your senses. However, I have discovered one or two of the opposition. Listen: ...

It had a sweet sound sometimes, patois. And I can't get the words out of my mind, Temps Perdi. Before I leave 'Rolvenden' I'll write them up--on a looking glass, perhaps. Somebody might see them who knows about the days that wait round the corner to be lived again and knows that you don't choose them, either. They choose themselves.
(What is dogeared?)

3.21.2010

volumes that I prize

Trent just wrote a post on books that have influenced him and I've decided to do the same. When he told me he was writing it I thought, I can't do that, it would be too hard to choose. But I decided after reading his that I wanted to try. I think my initial reluctance stemmed at least in part from my sadness that I've read so much less than I would like in recent years, which I prefer not to have to think about. But reading his made me think of several books I'd include in such a list.

1. Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. To be honest I don't recall exactly what it was that affected me so profoundly when I read this in college. But I do recall being shattered by it, and thinking that it should be required reading for every woman. I think--reverse engineering my impressions--it opened my eyes to how deeply my concept of self was affected by my sex and gender, and therefore how much it was derived from the male perspective, which necessarily defines me in relation to men.

2. William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch. This book has so much power and rawness. I think I measured every book I read against it for years afterward. It is hard to believe that words on a page can jump up and shake you by the throat the way this book does.

3. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I think what affected me most about this book was how surprisingly plausible it seemed. Unfortunately. Her description of how it happened that slowly women became entirely subjugated--again--was frighteningly real.

4. Anne McCaffrey's Pern series. Dragons! Taking a break from capital-L literature, these books are pure escapist fantasy. And that's exactly why I include them here. I read this series during an extremely difficult period of my life, and I'm not sure I would have survived it without them.

5. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Back to highbrow. Except not really--Chaucer was a sort of lowbrow pioneer because he wrote in English at a time when English was considered the language of the peasants, and serious poetry and prose was written only in French. Plus he wrote about common people, and his humor could be very coarse. In The Miller's Tale, a woman's lover tricks his rival into kissing his naked behind, and then farts in his face. But I include the Tales here because when I read them (after I got used to the archaic language -- it doesn't take that long to get over that hump and start enjoying them, so please don't read a "translation," you will seriously miss out) I was blown away by how alive his characters were. All these years after he wrote them, the voluble color with which they speak from the page is truly inspiring.

6. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. This book made me understand why capitalism by its very nature has to take over the world and push everyone and everything to do more, make more, consume more.

7. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels' The Communist Manifesto. I read this right after Smith, as part of the Great Books curriculum at the University of Chicago. (All colleges should follow this model. This is the third book on my list that I read as past of that curriculum, and there are at least a dozen more I could include. Can you even remember the titles of that many books you read in college?) I was reeling from the capitalism=cancer vision I got from Smith, and looking for an alternative. And unfortunately, this book didn't offer me one. What I learned from it is that the most popular alternative to capitalism anyone's come up with doesn't have a chance of ever being put into practice on a large scale because it would require that a small group of people seize power and then, after holding it for a while through a transition period, voluntarily give it up. Marx and Engels didn't explain how that was going to work, and history (and human nature) tells us that it doesn't.

8. Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter. This book made me understand Catholicism. One scene in particular crystallized it for me: the main character is about to do something that is a sin for reasons that I would call a technicality, and the image in his mind is that he is stomping on the face of baby Jesus. Amazing.

9. Jane Austen's Complete Works. Cheating, I know. But I don't want to single out one of her plots because that would miss the point. It's the way dear Jane writes about people that constitutes her influence on me. A few deft strokes of keenly observed mockery, and voila -- a fully-formed character. Gorgeous.

10. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town on the Prairie. I could put the whole series here, because I reread them all repeatedly and generally obsessed upon and worshipped Laura throughout my formative years. But Little Town was my favorite, probably because it was the one in which Laura's future husband courted her. I'm sure it had a significant impact on my ideas about love and romance, for better or worse.

3.20.2010

O Caesar! These things are beyond all use, and I do fear them

I haven't spent a lot of time on Youtube. Usually I watch videos people send me but I don't go there looking for videos. And actually I don't even watch the videos people send me half the time because I'm at work.

But for some reason tonight I went to YouTube and searched for boxer. One of the first videos I found made me laugh out loud repeatedly (boxers. f---ng awesome.), so I kept going. Boxer videos led me to baby videos which led me to ... vaguely horrified. Not flat-out horrified, just vaguely. Like this. So, it's not abuse to videotape (what is the verb when it's digital video?) your baby nodding like that instead of laying him down so he can get the sleep he clearly wants. But it's still pretty disturbing. It's a baby, for crissake. A kid, maybe it would be funny. Not a baby. You don't f--k with babies.

I guess if I spent more time on YouTube (blogger's spellcheck recognizes that the "T" in "YouTube" must be capitalized. Creepy.) I might already know that it is a window on humanity and all it's inevitable horrors. But I don't, so I didn't, and, ... shudder. And all I found was people letting their babies nod! No beating up on homeless people or ... well, I don't know what else these kids get up to on YouTube. I only know about the beating up on homeless people from Law & Order. (F**k I'm old. And naive, I suspect.) (Ok, definitely naive.)

I'm sort of hazy on this, but I think there is some critical/scholarly recognition that the dominance of "high-brow" culture in days gone by resulted from the limited control and consumption of culture by small--wealthy, white, male, etc.--segments of the population. So the rise of "low-brow" culture is a result of democratization. Which is a good thing. Right? Right?!!

Is there a counterargument? Because I don't really like much reality TV, and I would really like to know what the counterargument is.

p.s. Is it elitist to be smart and desire smart culture?

p.p.s. This is my 100th post!

3.13.2010

the food of love

We saw the Magnetic Fields Monday night and it was one of the best concert experiences I've ever had. I wish I had written about it when I was still in the warm glow because I can't remember now all the things I had to say. Every song was like a perfect gem. How is that even possible? And I fell in love with every member of the band, from Stephin Merritt to Shirley Simms. Is it just me or is the chemistry of love very similar if not identical to what good music does to you? I was just a couple beers short of telling them at the top of my voice how f---ing awesome they were in the middle of the set, I was that carried away. It's funny because I've never been that blown away by them recorded. I've listened to 69 Love Songs over and over courtesy of my husband and liked it well enough but that's about it. Once I even made him turn it off because I was in a blue mood and it was plunging me deeper. But I didn't find them depressing at all live. I felt thrillingly good from first to last. Bravo!!!

3.12.2010

leaves look pale

Nugget's bedtime is a bloody battle of epic proportions these days. I have to acknowledge that we've never been good about the consistent bedtime routine that all the books say is the way to avoid this. But I also think it has mostly to do with how much I've been working. Why would he willingly go to bed when this is the only time he gets to see me? And I don't know what the answer to that is, other than quitting my job, which obviously is not an option.

On the other hand, it's Daddy he wants when he gets really upset that I'm trying to put him to bed, and it's Daddy who can calm him down and get him to go to sleep. It's Daddy he cries for when he doesn't want his diaper changed, and on an on, always Daddy! He doesn'treally ever say Mommy. As my husband will point out, he is clearly a mama's boy most of the time: insisting that Mommy hold him or read him his book or feed him his dinner. Which is why I haven't really minded up til now that he doesn't say my name. But lately it's been grating on me, this calling for Daddy when he's mad that he's not getting his way.

I don't really mind that I know I am going to be the disciplinarian of the house. He can call for Daddy all he wants when I know I'm setting the boundaries he needs. I suppose what gets me is that I know I'm not able to give him the time and attention that he needs just as much right now. I don't think it's going to hurt him in the long run. I don't think he's going to hold it against me someday. I don't even think it's hurting his current development, whatever certain overly opinionated people might think. But it still bothers me, because it's what he and I both want right now: more quality time.

Spring has arrived in Chicago this week (although I fully expect that winter will be back at some point before we're through) and I have never been so unhappy to see it. Who wants warm sunny days when they just reinforce the feeling that I should be at the zoo with Nugget and I can't? And it sees like this winter was just a blink and a nod--where did it go? Why is time moving so fast? Is this the way it's supposed to be? I don't think so. I need to slow down. I need everything to just chill.

But like Nugget, I don't always get what I want. Daddy!

3.02.2010

How far a modern quill doth come too short

Today we went to the Opera with a capital "O" with some tix my moms couldn't use, and I have a few suggestions for the Opera producers of the world:

1. Mic the singers. Make it freakin' LOUD. I know it's supposed to carry me away on an emotional swell, and it does when Andrea Bocelli is blasting out my husband's TEAC speakers, but at the Opera it's just so ... far away. I can't get carried away when it's not LOUD. Yes, you will lose some of your current patrons when you drop the devotion to as-it-was, but they will be dead soon anyway. Think of your future!

2. Loosen up with the translation. The Opera we saw tonight had modrnized sets with lots of neon, but the translation could have used some jive to make it feel more relevant. If you can modernize the sets, why not modernize the libretto? The music is the purist part, right? I just can't get down with Faust when he's talking about peasants and mountains.

After my husband and I ducked out at intermission, it occurred to me that it is not at all implausible that I might have married some tool who would insist on taking the Opera seriously and would not have left with me to go to Monk's Bar and eat peanuts (the shells of which we could have thrown on the floor, which is part of the charm of Monk's, and we were charmed but just couldn't do it because we are neat people, despite all appearances to the contrary, such as our tornado-strewn condo) and enjoy looking at the shelves of books (until we pulled some down and discovered that the shelves were too short and the books had been amputated -- AMPUTATED! like some sort of horror show, I mean really, the books were cut in half! -- but we were nonetheless able to read from the book of dirty limericks, which made things a little better) and drinking beer and commiserating about how we really should like Opera but we'd much rather drink beer and read dirty limericks ... and oh! What a travesty it would have been if I had married anyone but my husband!

2.27.2010

sundry contemplation of my travels

Continuing my last post: I think I must acknowledge that a significant reason I never try my hardest is because I enjoy not knowing my limitations. If you don't know what your limitations are, you don't have to acknowledge that you have any. Thus I am able to go through life with the firmly held belief that if I had really wanted to I could have done X or Y or Z, where X, Y and Z are whatever truly amazing feat catches my fancy that day.

Of course, there are areas where even I must acknowledge that I could never have excelled. For example, I could not make a living as a Mary Kay saleswoman. I also could not be a professional golfer, tennis player, figure skater, or really any other type of athlete. I could not have a job that required me to drive one of those big rig trucks. Or really any job involving driving. I do not think I am cut out for teaching children. High school I probably could do. But not alternative high school students who don't know how to read, like in Push (aka the Precious book, which incidentally I don't see how it could have been made into a movie without losing much of what made it great). Anything that requires patiently dealing with people who are slow to grasp things or have limited understanding I could not do. Actually anything that requires patience period. I tried learning computer programming once and had to rule that out too. I had perfect scores on everything going into the final, and then I hit a brick wall. I could not have completed that final -- I think you had to set up a sort of web site arcade that kept track of high scores on a game or something -- to save my life, in the improbable event that a web arcade would save my life. I could not be a chef. Or a waitress. Or anything else that requires being on your feet all day. I once had a job as a security guard at a museum and had to periodically find an empty gallery to squat down and rest in. I also once had a job as a receptionist and was fired because I couldn't get the hang of the phone system and kept hanging up on customers. But I wouldn't rule out receptionist entirely. I think I might be able to handle answering phones now.

On the other hand, I think younger versions of myself might be very surprised that I became a lawyer, and might have thought I wouldn't be any good at it. When in fact I am very good indeed. But not as good as I could be.

2.24.2010

like a duck

I swam the long distance events in high school -- 500 and 200 yard free. I wasn't bad. I wasn't that good, either. I will say with all immodesty that I have a beautiful stroke. It is strong and efficient. I sliced through the water with grace. Just not with speed. Slowly my arm cleaved the water, and slowly it pushed down and through and around in a patient, carefree arc. Like I was strolling through the park, nice and easy. The coach would pace up and down, covering his mouth and chin with his hand, shaking his head. Why won't she move her arms faster? I could have, no doubt. But my beautiful stroke was so strong and efficient that I really didn't have to. I'd keep an eye on the other swimmers and keep pace with them (I was not in a terribly competitive league, so this worked), and then kick it up a little higher for the last lap to try and close in on the win. Which sometimes happened and sometimes didn't, but it didn't bother me a whole lot, as long as I made a decent showing.

That image of my coach pacing in frustration as I leisurely stroked through the water has been in my head a lot lately. It seems like a paradigm for me. I haven't had to try very hard to do pretty well, so I haven't bothered. Frankly, I'm not entirely convinced it's a bad thing. Life is too short. It should be enjoyed. But I wonder if this sort of thing, never really reaching my full potential, contributes to my dissatisfaction in some way. Would I feel more happy and fulfilled if I were trying my hardest? I'm not sure I'm capable of trying my hardest at this point. It's seems too ingrained.

I've been thinking about this in relation to Nugget, too. I don't care if he is "successful," as long as he's happy, but if people who strive are happier, then maybe I should want him to strive. How do you raise a kid who strives, particularly when he's likely to inherit my ability to get by without trying too hard? It seems to me that the problem started when I was in school and not being sufficiently challenged. How do you make sure your kid is challenged without pushing your kid so hard you take away his childhood? I had such a marvelous childhood, I really want him to have that. I worry that kids seem to grow up so fast these days. You wouldn't believe how long it took me to grow up. But that's another story. Sometimes I think "unschooling"--a type of home schooling where you let your kid do nothing until he gets so bored he starts to find learning interesting, and then follows his own interests to learn about the world--might be an answer to this. The thing is, the one time I realy do try is when I'm interested. I think that sort of lack of discipline is part of the problem.

Speaking of discipline though, I should get back to my brief.