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Archive for August, 2009

True Blood Soundtrack
Wow. This is a great soundtrack. I want to meet the team responsible for picking the music for Alan Ball’s shows, because the music from Six Feet Under was just as good.

It starts with the theme song … “I wanna do bad things with you…” and gets better from there. It’s bluesy, it’s rough, raw, pulsing with sex, bass lines that just make you move. It’s got a little bit of country, and this hilarious breathy song about Jesus being a girl’s boyfriend from the current season of the show.

Bands not to be missed, that I will be looking into: CC Adcock and the Lafayette Marquis – blues, country, raw and mean; Cobra Verde – extremely sexy music; and I’ve already got an album by Th’ Legendary ShackShakers, which seems to be part blues, part ska, and just overall fun. Alain Toussaint makes an appearance on the soundtrack, which is notable for me if only because he’s recently worked with Elvis Costello.

Maia Sharp – Whole Flat World
This song has particular poignancy for me right now, but it’s artful too. I know people hate it when  lyrics are quoted, but you’ll see what I mean:

You were my whole flat world
’til the day I discovered it was round
you were my favorite movie
’til they started making them with sound
do you blame me for thinking maybe
love was a bigger place
that I could sail beyond your edge
and not fall off into space
wisdom is a little black pearl
I loved you more than anything in the whole flat world

Antje Duvekot, The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer
Wow. OK, I know, I have a thing for artfully rendered lyrics in a folk-feeling song, but she really is good. Not to be missed. Ragdoll Princes and Junkyard Queens is my favorite cut off of this one. Her lyrics remind me of Aimee Mann’s and her sound … is kind of like… early Shawn Colvin.

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“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom… The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.”

-David Foster Wallace, from his graduation address to Kenyon College, 2005

This quote was in the book This Is Water, which I picked up and read a few months ago. The book now sits on my nightstand. It is, to be sure, his shortest, at about 40 pages, each page containing one thought.

I had kind of… forgotten this quote. Now that I saw it again today, I am reminded of (a) how much I wish I was that smart and (b) that maybe, just maybe, I’m on the right track in my own life.

Because he’s right, you know.

First, I think it’s helpful for me to define what I think he means by sacrifice. I think he is talking about all the things we do without any acknowledgment from others, things we negotiate internally on and decide to do – big and small. Whether it’s changing something in myself that needs changing, relenting on something that I need to give up on. Trying harder. Trying less. Making healthier food. Changing my schedule to work with what my kids need. Standing down as a parent, standing up, as needed. Tirelessly cheering my son on for the 800th time on that backwards skating drill, or my daughter on her 700th successful jump.

I don’t do those things because I need someone to congratulate me on being so selfless. I didn’t become a parent for the thanks and appreciation. If I were attached to the outcome of every tiny thing I did for my kids… well, I’d be waiting a very long time for the appropriate response from them. (Actually, I know precisely when that moment will be – when they have their own children.)

About a month ago, my daughter and I were talking. She was in the tub, and I asked her if there was anything she wanted to talk about (there is always something she wants to talk about).

She said, “Mom, when you had us, did you lose yourself?”

I said, “You know, Camille, when I first had you, I didn’t know a thing about babies, or at least I thought I didn’t. So it feels a little like you’re losing yourself at first because this little person who used to be on your insides is now on your outside and needs so much from you. But really, in having you, and having Jackson, I actually found myself.”

Which is sort of the same thing as saying – in all of the myriad, unsexy sacrifices – all of the things I’ve done for others without anyone even knowing I did them – all of the sleepless nights, all of the dreary waiting rooms, all of the macaroni and cheese, all of the scrubbing of carpet stains, all of the folding of laundry, in all of the countless readings of every Dr. Seuss book, in every hug, in the wiping of every tear and peeling off of every band-aid, in every pointless doctor visit and every time I have to repeat the word “No” or “Stop hitting”… I found my … self.

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Yesterday I bought a little piece of software called MacJournal, made by Mariner Software. I bought it because for many years I didn’t consistently keep a journal – no one seemed to see anything wrong with going through my personal things in my house – but I need to now. Have to. For writing, for everything, I need a journal that I can password protect, and this one has encryption. My mom uses it and recommended it (I guess this means I won’t be hacking hers – not that I would). She also bought WordPress for me – made by the same company – but I haven’t given it a good run-through yet.

I am notoriously cantankerous about paying for software, but I have been trying to shake that disease  because I no longer technically work in the web industry and so cannot expect great free demos that never expire.

Here is the email that was in my inbox this morning:

Thank you for your Mariner Software order. This email is regarding your order yesterday.

I’m wondering how everything went for you? If you would like to share your comments about your shopping experience, why you decided to buy, what we could do better, or have other feedback, we would love to hear from you. Please feel free to email any feedback that you have. Again, thank you for your business.

Regards,

Logan Ryan
Director of Marketing

Wow. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Now, I know it is an autoresponse message. I know this guy isn’t sitting at his desk waiting for the purchase notifications to come in and then writing personal messages to every customer.

But still. Logan Ryan is inviting me to email him and even left his phone number in his sig file.

I’m going to email this URL to him after I post it. For the record: It’s a software company that focuses on developing Mac software, so you know I’m kind of biased due to my Mac fanatic thing.

The purchasing experience was fine, the GUI was smooth, the steps made sense, and it was what I expected. There was only one page of “don’t you want” for their other products, which I respect and appreciate. And when I popped back over to input the serial number, it was prepopulated from the website (nice touch!).

The software itself is what I expected; I really like it. I can insert video clips and images into it – just about anything I can find that could be dragged and dropped – and I can select entries for publication to my blog, which I did last night with an entry about the tricycle I had when I was a little kid.

And I encrypted the whole kit and caboodle – it was really easy.

Score one for community building, Logan.

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Almost every morning since Jackson was 3, he has appeared by my side of the bed and said, “Mom, can I snuggly buggly wuggly with you?”

I don’t remember how we came up with that name, but it involves him climbing into bed, me circling him with my arms, his face buried in my neck, thumb in mouth, his other hand around my shoulder. He goes to sleep just like that, and eventually rolls away a bit from me.

He is now 7 and a half, getting ready to enter 2nd grade. While I am pretty sure my days of snuggly buggly wuggly are numbered, he climbed in with me today.

I watched him sleep this morning. Watching my kids sleep is one of the more settling things I can do, always has been – these days even moreso. For a brief moment I thought about avoiding the greatest pitfall of single motherhood – becoming so attached to my children that I allow nothing else in. It’s easy to do.

But this moment was too perfect for me to ruin with thinking.

I watched his tan little chest rise and fall. The whorls of fine blonde hair look painted on and reflect the rays of sunlight. His nostrils flare with each breath, his hand twitches inside mine. His long eyelashes and perfect lips, open just enough so that I could see the two front baby teeth that are now loose. His hair, tangled from going to bed with it wet the night before.

When he was a baby, I knew that I was literally watching him grow every hour of the day. I feel like I did a little of that this morning with some sadness at the loss of my baby, but I can’t wait to see who he becomes this year.

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I am sure that there will be at least 100 million blog posts dedicated to John Hughes this weekend. Maybe they are the same people who wrote passionately about what a great artist Michael Jackson was. Maybe not.

I have never even written so much as a fan letter. I never ask for signed copies of books at readings, never seek autographs. I think it’s weird to want someone’s ink on your whatever just to prove you were near them at some moment neither of you will remember.

Not even when I saw Betty Friedan having dinner at a table right next to me (I swear, I was the only person under 40 in the room who even knew who she was), or David Crosby having brunch across the room. I was embarrassed to have the Beach Boys take a Sharpie to my sweatshirt once, but everyone else had lined up, so I did too.

All that goes to say, celebrity worship is not my gig.

But John Hughes. He is not just a celebrity. His death made me actually, really upset. Why did the death of someone I’ve never met do that to me? I didn’t know him.

Today, as I drove through Northbrook (the model for Shermer, IL), it hit me: I didn’t know him. But he knew me.

In Andi from Pretty In Pink, he saw not only my disdain for popular kids but my desire to dissolve those boundaries and just be friends with whomever I wanted to – economics aside — and date one of them if I damn well pleased. In Ferris Bueller, the part of me that wanted to just — really live, have fun for one day, and get away with it. In Samantha from Sixteen Candles, the utter embarrassment and self-consciousness involved in just – being 16, but then… being able to miraculously shed the cocoon of it some day. In Some Kind of Wonderful, both the super-popular Amanda Jones, preyed on by slimeballs, and the brooding Watts, obsessing over Keith from afar.

And the male characters? Hm. I learned a lot from them, too. Bender from The Breakfast Club gave me a taste for the bad boy. That earring scene made my stomach do flip flops … oh, and Bug from Uncle Buck – encapsulated nearly every boy I dated in high school (sad… but true). Keith from Some Kind of Wonderful – the quiet, brooding artist type – which totally ended up being more my type. Still is. So I still have a thing for Keith in his mechanic’s outfit and sketch pad at his side.

Oh, yeah. And then there’s the karma. Blessed, lovely karma visiting upon the unredeemable characters like “Steff” (with 2 fs? Really?) in Pretty in Pink.

Then there are the more grown-up films like She’s Having A Baby, which came out long before I started having mine, but in watching them later on, I completely empathized, I mean TOTALLY. And, now that I have two of my own, his portrait of kids is just — so totally great. I don’t know what else to say about it. Like the kid in Uncle Buck – Macauley Culkin firing 25 questions at Buck and Buck’s response:

Buck: What’s your record for consecutive questions asked?
Miles: 38.
Buck: I’m your Dad’s brother alright.
Miles: You have much more hair in your nose than my Dad.
Buck: How nice of you to notice.
Miles: I’m a kid – that’s my job.

I could go on for days. But so what? Many of us have these same memories, many of us can recite dialogue from the films.

Here’s the question – what did his films make me feel? What did I walk away with?

It wasn’t just the humor, or how dead-on he was about people, or how he captured the full-on, slightly sickening, no-punches-pulled portrait of my generation. Or the fantastic soundtracks, which opened up a whole world of music to me.

It’s how much goddamn heart his films have. At the core of the insecurity, the gentle teasing, whether it’s the lack of self-awareness or the painful reality of having economic inequality driven home every day, it’s how much he loved (most of) his characters, even Bug, in his confusion and slimy sexuality.

Through his films, he said to me – what’s the worst that can happen if you date that guy? Or if you let other people know who you really are? Well, love conquers all, Shelby, and in the end, it’s the only thing that really matters. That’s what he had to say to me.

More universally: We are all the same, no matter what brings us together. So what else is there to do but dance around the library during Saturday detention?

In The Breakfast Club, during the library dancing scene, a song by Karla Devito plays: We Are Not Alone:

If we dare expose our hearts
Just to feel the purest parts
That’s when strange sensations start to grow

We are not alone
Find out when your cover’s blown
There’ll be somebody there to break your fall
We are not alone
‘Cause when you cut down to the bone
We’re really not so different after all
After all
We’re not alone

Do yourself a favor and click here – enjoy.

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What are children?

I was asked recently if I felt that having children was an accomplishment, for me, in my life. It was in the context of other things I had done – my career, places I’ve lived, successes I’ve had. Compared to friends who were either married, not married, had children, or didn’t. And in the context of my future, which is both wide open and wonderful, but also terrifying in its own ways – mostly because I have two little people who depend on me, but also because I have to figure out who I am independent of anyone else telling me on a daily basis.

When I look back on my life from a wheelchair or respirator (though I hope I drop dead in a thunderstorm after being hit by a giant bolt of lightning when I’m 100 years old and still living on my own), what will I be able to say I’ve done with some measure of satisfaction and contentment?

How is that measured? By who still wants to be around you?

My feelings about children used to be ambivalent. First and foremost – who would bring children into a world like this one? To boot, I have never been that “into” them. I never babysat as a teenager, abhorred the very idea of becoming a teacher (20 of them? Are you kidding?), and when I became pregnant I feared that my lack of enthusiasm for little people would compromise me as a mom. I am no longer like this. I love kids and will have more if I can. (So weird to see myself typing that…!)

Also, I hate parenting books. Hysteria, lecturing… who the hell compares someone’s daughter to Ophelia? How horrific. I digress. That’s another blog post.

So what I’m writing here is what I really think, for me, subjectively, though probably influenced in ways I don’t even realize:

What are my children to me?

Apart from the obvious – little human beings who require a lot of care, time and nurturing. Some would say sacrifice, and in a supposed free market economy where a woman is paid 75 cents on the dollar, this is true in all kinds of ways that threaten individuality, hell I could write that book about 10 times over. Apart from a genetic and biological mix of myself and their father, and the generations that came before.

I suppose I could say that being able to bear them, be healthy before and afterwards, and have them be physically healthy could be called an accomplishment, but really, that’s just genetic accident and living in a country with great healthcare.

The work put into raising them does not really equate to accomplishment at any point.

It’s kind of… bigger and smaller than that. Because the children are not mine, in a very real way. They are mine legally, biologically, and from a responsibility standpoint. But they are their own, too. My job – my contribution, my accomplishment – will be getting them to become themselves. This removes them from the realm of something that is “mine.”

It is the most curious mix of holding on and letting go I’ve ever experienced. It is love without attachment at its most profound. Wanting to hold on, to stop them from feeling anything bad or being hurt; knowing you have to let some things happen or they will not grow. Watching them figure out the wonderful, and the terrible, things out for themselves and standing by to guide without leading. Knowing that sometimes, you yourself are causing the hurt.

They are almost like visitors in my home that I am blessed to care for, blessed not being a word I use often.

If there is an accomplishment in all of this letting go, all of this standing by and holding on at the right times, I think it may be as simple as what Aurora Greenway said in The Evening Star : “I loved, and was loved.” My accomplishment is really within myself. They taught me how to love and be loved. The rest is them.

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Alienation, 2009 Style

A book I read recently, Revolutionary Road, is about American alienation in the 1950s. It is a sad, depressing little volume about the inability to connect to people or be engaged in life. There were glimmers of hope throughout the book and I kept hoping against hope that there would be a redeeming ending.

There was not. There was just… two people, living in the same house, unable to talk to one another, seemingly incapable of loving themselves, each other or their children.

When I fly on planes, I usually like to talk to the people nearby. It’s a bit like playing the lottery, because sometimes you hit the jackpot and meet a really interesting person, and sometimes, well, check out my friend Jeremy’s post on how it can be a less than ideal experience.

These days, though, I notice that people aren’t as open to chatting.

On my flight to Seattle, as I got on the plane I saw no less than 5 polo shirts with the word Microsoft on them. If that’s a kind of representative sample, I thought, then a lot of people here are probably interested in the same things I am. Might be cool to talk to them. I will probably learn something. Maybe even network a bit.

It was not to be.

Nearly everyone on the flight broke out their iPhones as they sat down, including me, to check email one last time and turn it off. As the flight attendant told us to turn off all electronics I thought about saying to the guy next to me, “What on earth will we do for the next 30 minutes without our gadgets?”

But he was staring at his tray-table latch as though he were trying to burn a hole through it with his eyes. He kept his earbuds in his ears, even though his iPhone was turned off. Oh – and yes, he was wearing a Microsoft shirt. He held his iPhone in his hand until the flight attendant said we were at cruising altitude and then he was lost to everything and everyone outside his tiny screen.

(It should be noted that I had no less than 5 electronic gadgets in my carryon, including my camera – mostly because they are the most valuable and fragile things I take with me on a trip. But let me be honest: I’m just as guilty as the next person of being into my gadgets, the same way my friends who have horses sometimes joke that they prefer horses to humans.)

Two rows ahead of me to the right was a young man with his iPhone. Earbuds in, he literally played Monopoly for three hours. (I didn’t even know you could play Monopoly by yourself.)

To my right, devices emerged, earbuds were inserted, and people stared straight ahead for the whole flight.

I can take a hint.

I took out my Kindle and my iPod and read the Sunday New York Times. An hour later, I broke out my laptop, hoping to try this new Wi-Fi on the plane thing, but didn’t get prompted to join the network, so I worked on a short story I’m writing.

On the one hand, I get it. Sometimes being on a plane alone is the only time I have to just sit, think, read, and be with myself for an extended stretch of time. No one asking me to get something for them, telling me they’re bored or hungry or tired. On the other, where else are you going to have the potential to just meet someone completely different from you and just… be social for a bit? For no reason, with no purpose in mind – just chatting with another person?

As I packed up all of my gadgets at the end of the flight, I promised myself that on the flight back, I wouldn’t use them. And I didn’t. I had a lovely, if sad, conversation with the woman next to me about the end of her 34-year marriage.

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