Thursday, April 30

Songcatching

I'm big on metaphor. And all the rest, too. You know, messages, "lessons", trails of breadcrumbs. My mother used to say, mostly in jest, "It's a omen!" (like, say, when chocolate covered graham crackers, which she loved, but rarely bought, were on sale for a great price at the grocery store). Little did she know.

A couple of years back, I was reflecting on my art, discussing the types of things I am inclined to make. At the time I was a potter, spending a goodly amount of time in the studio with my hands in the mud (ah, those were the days). There, in that place, where I felt at home and had been welcomed by the community, I still struggled with "fitting in". Not in the sense that I didn't have great friends there--I worked and talked and created alongside some of the most terrific people I have met. But something nagged at me.

Quick--when you hear that I was a potter, what do you picture me making? Bowls? Mugs? Vases? Teapots? I bet you picture a wheel, don't you?

My point exactly.

Sure, I have my share of bowls. And mugs. And vases. And even a teapot or two. But I could never get how people could make those things over and over again, even in their infinite variety. I was always searching for the "thing" that I really wanted to make, the thing that I could pour my heart into, work on constructing day after day, week after week, and never get bored. And when I found the answer (occasionally), it was never a bowl. Or a mug. Or a vase. "Oh, so you did sculptural work!" No. Not really.

At the time, I had joined an advanced class in which the instructor encouraged us to "find our style", find out "what we make". The struggle continued. The jokes flew. "What's she making now?". I let them wonder. I kept working, molding, joining, imprinting clay with only my hands and a few small wood or metal tools. And in time, I had an answer.

It came to me in much the same way as the name of this blog. Not as a revelation, not as an idea that arrived fully born, an empty vessel waiting to be filled, but as an effort to weave the hair-thin threads that ran through my disjointed conclusions into a coherent theme. And as with the title of this blog, it may not always fit perfectly. Sometimes I still make a bowl, especially if I need one (or if it's for somebody else--other people like round things). Just like sometimes I write about things that have nothing to do with the theme of "what I don't get". In the end, it all seems to fit together anyway.

So, what did I come up with? When it was my turn for critique, and I introduced my work (and my threads), I said "I like to make things that appear to be other than what they are" and "I like to make things that have hidden parts or meanings or uses that people will not automatically perceive."

Like I said, I'm big on metaphor. And not so big on utility. Which begins to explain the phenomenon of "songcatching", at least for me.

(Yes, I've seen the movie. Yes, it's odd. Yes, I liked it. It surprised me. I like that. Great music, too. No, it's not quite what I'm talking about.)

I've never known what to call it. I "get" songs. All of a sudden, in the middle of nothing in particular, a song comes into my head. They come out of nowhere, and could be of any genre, and by any, I mean any. I walk around humming or singing the song the rest of the day--which, if you know me, you know is easy to make happen. Just sing a few lines or play something over the muzak in the grocery store and I'm singing it all day, even if I don't remember hearing it. We call them "earworms" in our family, thanks to a tribe of friends from way back. But the songcatching isn't like that. It isn't a song I've heard that day (at least not to my knowledge). It just comes.

And in case you're wondering...yes, of course, I am limited to songs that I have heard at one time or another in my life. But that's a lot of songs, since music of all sorts was continually played in my home as a child, I did that whole 70's and 80's radio and 45 and LP thing, and music has remained integral in one shape or another since then. It helps that I have one of those memories that has gaping holes for important things (birthdays, appointments, my childhood) but endless storage space for lyrics to a 1941 song that I'll never need. But hey, I guess you never know.

Oh, and sometimes the songs come sneaky-like, disguised as other things. Like once, at an acutely painful time, I was driving in Harvard Square, and I was behind a car with a bumper sticker that said "Be As You Are". Deep. I thought that was the message in itself. It was enough, and it gave me comfort. But then it started bothering me, like an itch that you can't reach. Be as you are. Be as you are. Isn't that a song? Be as you are. About four hours later, I "got" a visual image, this time the cover of "Flag", a James Taylor album that contains the song B.S.U.R..

So I listened. Nothing. I listened again, shaking my fist at....whatever...and saying "Okay, I got it, this is the song...what is it?" It didn't resonate. I played it again. Nothing. Okay. Just a fluke this time, just an overly suggestible mind triggered by a crunchy bumper sticker. No prob. So I gave up and went to make dinner, leaving the recording playing. The song after B.S.U.R. was Rainy Day Man. I stopped dead in my tracks. That was the one.

Up until now, there just haven't been that many people that know about this, so there have been few that I could call up to say "I got a song", if I were so inclined. Sometimes it's interesting to "figure it out" with someone else. And sometimes, though not so often, the songs are not for me, they're for someone else, and I'm obligated to call them up and give them the song, even if I don't know why (kinda like "witnessing", I figure). But now I'm taking the chance, inspired by a few bloggers who continually amaze me with their courage, so that now and again (and again), I can (if so inclined) post here about it. Let's start now.

I got a song.

Today's is a doozy. It's been awhile, maybe there's some extra energy saved up somewhere like a spring wound too tight, or maybe somebody messed with the jukebox. I don't know. The one I got today--I don't even know the lyrics. Only one line, and the tune. It often happens that way (when it does, the "message" is not usually in that line, but somewhere else in the song. It's a trail marker). When you hear it, you just might burst out laughing, and wonder what in the hell it could possibly have to do with my life--I did. Just in case you can't tell on your own, this is not one of the "duh" ones. This one is a little more convoluted. But still dead on--believe it or not.

(deep breath)

Here it is:



The conclusions, I'll leave to you.

I sometimes imagine that songcatching is, for me, what some people mean when they say that their muse speaks to them, or that Jesus speaks to them, or that they try to sit quietly and "listen", even when they can't explain what or who they're "listening" to. For me, I see it as simply the most recent manifestation of a lifelong relationship with "voices" (don't worry about me, I'm fine), in one form or another. I "get" songs. I don't know where they come from, but they're always dead on, in one way or another. Sometimes it's a hit-over-the-head obvious meaning, and sometimes it's more like scratching my head, trying to figure out what thehell the message is. Sometimes I don't find out for days. But in the end, as I say, it's always dead on.

Now you know. So when you open this blog on some future day, and find yourself listening to some long-forgotten George Michael song (ha! remember him?), you'll be slightly less confused. Or not.

And yes, I do occasionally catch for other people, either intentionally or inadvertently (and sometimes by request). So...be on the lookout for low-flying songs!  And if you're a songcatcher, tell me about it!

Wednesday, April 29

Next?

Hmm. That one week break from blogging seems to have projected me into a whirlpool of political rants. One industry after the next. It also seems to have made me 20% more likely to start my posts with "Hmm." Hmm.

Today's lucky winner? Health care. Plenty to say, of course. But like most things in our me-obsessed culture (from which I am obviously not immune, as ashamed as I am to admit it), it doesn't really hit me over the head until I experience it myself. So now, as I'm nearing one week of far-too-intimate interaction with the health care system, I'm edging ever nearer to self-proclaimed expert status (ha!). At the very least, I'm qualified to point out some of the, shall we say, "curiosities" of my experience. So here goes.

Our system of health care in the United States is completely f&*@ed up. There. I'm done now.

Well... that was just completely unsatisfying.

Back to rambling. I've got a reputation to support.

First, there's a backstory. (isn't there always a backstory?) The backstory is needed because many of you who are reading do not live in Massachusetts. And in this case, it matters, becuase one might be tempted to see Massachusetts as the maverick (I hate how that word was tainted by Sarah Palin, when it's a perfectly good word. I'm gonna use it anyway), because we have universal health insurance, mandated by the state. We're admired for it, we're envied for it, we're the "model". Massachusetts is good at that kind of stuff. And there are places where it is well deserved, inspirational, even. Witness Rev. Peter Gomes' comments about Massachusetts at the State House in favor of equal marriage:

"We, after all, have the Mayflower Compact. We have John Winthrop and his vision set on a hill. We have John Adams and the oldest Constitution in the world. Why should we yield to the sentimenets of the main street or the mainstream? We set the mainstream, we don't follow it!"

I'm getting off topic (how very unusual). It was a great speech and a great moment, though.

So, I'm sure you've heard that our rock star President, who happens to be good friends with our governor, is modeling his proposals for universal health care after the plan that was implemented in Massachusetts three years ago (do YOU have to list your health insurance policy number on YOUR income taxes? I do.). Or maybe it's the other way around--maybe Massachusetts modeled it on the federal plan that apparently exists but has never been implemented, because, well, that would be kinda proactive, and that just goes against our grain. So one way or the other, it was somebody's idea, and somebody else followed it, and we have in in Massachusetts and you don't. Whatever.

Important Caveat: The killer (pun intended) here is that you couldn't find anyone more in favor of universal health care than me. I'm not only in favor of it, I am a fervent proponent. It's just my feeling, crazy as it is, that it has to work. That's where these things always run into trouble...you know, "it was such a good idea..."


First off, I'm sure there are a number of things we can agree on:

1. Emergency rooms are for emergencies. Not for routine care, or even for urgent care. Not the place to go when you're feelin' poorly (why do I always feel like I'm in a Mark Twain story when I use that phrase?). Emergencies.

2. Colds go away by themselves. They're unpleasant, but barring some sort of problem with immunity, they do go away.

3. Being sick can be scary, especially in this age of 24 hour media sensationalism.

4. If you're really sick, or really worried about symptoms you're having, it's a really good idea to see your doctor (Note to my friends: Pick Jaw Up Off Floor.)

5. It's good to have a doctor who knows you and your history.

6. It feels a little bit better (and a good deal more rational) for medical professionals to make medical decisions rather than insurance agents.

...and perhaps the most important one:

7. It's pretty much true that, no matter what is wrong with you (if something is, indeed, wrong with you), it's better to "catch it early). Way better.

Agreed? Good. Let's go on.

I have a great doctor, and that's saying something, since in my experience those two words rarely belong in the same sentence. I feel lucky about that, and grateful to the person who referred me to him. So naturally, when I was having, well, let's just say "some symptoms of concern" last Friday, I called his office. On another occasion, they actually got me in right away. It was encouraging. This time, it made me long for the days of country doctors, I gotta tell ya. First, I got the recorded line that offered me lots of choices. Those people aren't even located at my doctor's office. I pushed "2". Next, I got the receptionist at my doctor's office. She asked me for my symptoms (do receptionists know something about symptoms?), and forwarded me to my doctor's nurse. I talked to her, she asked me questions, I gave her answers. She told me to go to emergency.

Since I was sitting in the emergency room parking lot of a hospital at the time (trying desperately to come up with some alternative to going inside), that wasn't too tough, at least logistically. So I went. I was there for seven hours. Lots of tests, some of them rather unpleasant. They were very nice, and seemingly thorough. Everything (or close enough) came out okay. No conclusions, no ideas, no particular relief. No news is good news, eh? And so I left. But before I left, I got my instructions.

Pay attention. This is where the plot thickens.

My instructions? Follow up with your doctor. Good idea! (especially if there is some intention to figure out what these symptoms are about, which seems like a pretty good idea to me.)

So, I called my doctor, like a good do-be (see #4). Pressed "1" this time. (I thought you'd want to know). Told them I was told by their office to go to emergency last Friday, and that the ER told me to make a follow-up appointment right away.

Next available appointment? Monday, June 13th. 7 weeks.

Now of course, I don't know for a fact that this is due to the implementation of universal health care, so that people can see their doctor rather than going to the emergency room (since there are really no other points of entry between, which just doesn't make any sense at all). I have no evidence of that at all, really (well, except for an article in the New York Times). I do know that before universal health care, I always got an appointment with him within a week, often within a day. Maybe it's just coincidental.

So here's where the whole thing falls apart for me. That's where I start to say "I don't get it". I still have symptoms--not as bad, but still there. They know it. I know it. Yeah, I have a prescription for knock-me-out meds, but it's nowhere near that level of pain, so I'm not inclined to fill it. It's not even really "pain". It's...well...different. But it still counts (See #3 above).

So what I am I left with? Emergency again (not today, I'm pretty much okay today, just thinking ahead)? Highly unlikely (and besides, it violates #1 above). See a different doctor? Possible. Still a week out at the minimum and in violation of #5 (not to mention a bit challenging for someone like me who thinks the great majority of MDs are borderline incompetent, especially in the face of something "not obvious".) Block out 8:30-9:00 a.m. every day, and call and sit on hold, in hopes of a cancellation? I'm figuring I'm pretty much left with #2 (and a heaping and lingering serving of #7). What else is there? So I have a cold. I guess I'm going with that. Kinda expensive way to come to that conclusion, but rules are rules.

All of this, in the land of some of the biggest and best hospitals (and lots of 'em!) in the country.

Honestly, folks, at the risk of being overly dramatic, really all I'm doing is hoping to avoid ending up like one of these folks, and my guess is you are as well:


It just seems like we can't keep blaming people for going to emergency (with all the associated costs, which are admittedly gigantic) when we don't offer any other viable options. If you're sick, waiting seven weeks for an appointment just isn't going to do it for you--it's simple logic. Remember that "catching it early" thing? You'd think even insurance companies would subscribe to that one.

There's gotta be a better way. This ain't it.

Tuesday, April 28

Anti-"Choice"


Hmm. And again, I say: Hmm.

In February, two bills were debated in Utah. They didn't even get out of committee, and are now "dead". One was to allow gay and unmarried couples (yes, straight people) to adopt ,and one was to protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment. The opponents of both of these used "choice" as their sole argument (thanks to Joe for these):
"...those who choose alternative lifestyles suffer the consequences..." (Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem)

"What we're talking about is choice -- someone's sexual choice," she told a House panel. "Why would we put into law someone's sexual choice? … This is not the right thing to do." (Gayle Ruzicka, Eagle Forum President)
Clearly, it worked.

The Family Research Council (aka "The Axis of Evil") is certainly clear about it. Their handy brochure, "Homosexuality is Not a Civil Right" will fill you right in, 'splain it all to you so you understand clearly that being gay is a choice (or possibly you will understand clearly that the agenda of the RRR is to make that case, which is kinda different, don't you think?). Whatever you understand, people believe them.

And so do I.

Now, now, now....put away the pitchforks.

It has long been the stance of the GLBT community that being gay or lesbian is not a choice, but an inborn characteristic, as evidenced by the chorus of "Why would anyone choose THIS?. Way to feel proud, guys.

Yeah, some in GLBT groups are now saying, "Oh, we aren't using that argument [what I call the "poor-us-we-can't-help-it-so-please-give-us-equal-rights" argument] anymore." When you google the subject, you find lots of people saying "what does it matter if it's a choice or not?" (yay, I've been saying that for years, I knew they'd come around). But you also find this. HRC, the largest and most visible LGBT political organization in the U.S., continues to fight the good fight on the nearly abandoned front of "It's Not A Choice!!" (a few examples here , here and here) along with their pals at the APA and the AMA (who apparently have to choose between inborn or illness, kind of a black and white world view, no?).

Not to mention the hubbub about recent statements by Miss California (the symbol of all that is good and fair), who I don't think really did anything that wrong (yes, I know I'm digging myself in deeper every second)--she just stated her opinion. Why do we care what she thinks anyway?

I don't get why our own community, people who support us, would do that. At all. What's the matter with choice? Sure, it means facing persecution, but so does conversion to Judaism, and nobody says that people are crazy to do that. Why wouldn't people choose it, if there's nothing wrong with it? Are they saying that those who DO choose are not "real" gay or lesbian people? Seems to me the only reason to argue that it's not a choice is to say that we can't help it (with the obvious implication that if we could, we would). I don't know. That's not what pride (of any kind) or self-acceptance is about, in my opinion. On that note, check this out. Yikes.


[If you're reading, and inclined to leave a comment that says "Well, I didn't choose it!", you've got no argument from me. Some of us did. Some of us didn't. All I'm saying is that it's got zip to do with your (or my) right to equality.]

Many's the time I've wondered why HRC and other groups, not to mention individuals, so often fall back on this "not a choice" line. Maybe it's simply a reactive response to the right wing tactic of calling it a choice--but isn't that letting them define the conversation? Not for me, thanks. Maybe it's because the men who run the organization feel that they didn't choose it--but isn't that a little egocentric?

Or....or....(wait, I'm on to something)...is it because we (or some segment of "we") actually believe that immutable characteristics are the only rational justification for being given full protection under the law?

In the spirit of that old Jewish joke about the guy who didn't get a spoon for his soup....

AHA! And again, I say: AHA! (I know. I already used that. I like it.)

Today, the results of a huge new study were released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. You can read about it here -- or for you stats geeks who want to run the data yourself--been there done that-- the study itself is here. (Just for a moment, we're going to slide right over the fact that the charts presented on CNN only refer to Christian denominations- it's my birthday and I'm feeling generous today.)

The gist of the thing is that half of Americans have changed religion in the course of their lifetime.

So. Religion is a choice (like we didn't already know that). Hmm.

And its practitioners are protected by law. Hmm.

And no one is pointing that out. Hmm.

And it's tax-exempt. Hey!

We've argued the "we can't help it" line for too long. I don't care what APA, AMA, HRC, FRC, and all them other three letter organizations say. We have argued it because immutability is one of the requirements for being a protected class.

I'm here to say that I'm picking another requirement (there are two others, you know). Mine is not less, it's not more. It's equal. (Equal. Hey, what a concept).

If something is not immutable, it either needs to be innocuous or protected directly by the Constitution. Let's see. Eeny-meeny-miney-mo. Either one of those works for me.

Let's just stop staying we can't help it, okay?

Monday, April 27

Life in a Bubble

I admit it. I'm naive. I really thought it was a dying breed. I still hope so, for whatever that's worth. I mean, I've never been that media-savvy. I'm not really one to critique news anchors, with all their eccentricities. But I didn't know--I really didn't know--that there were still people in high profile positions in the news industry who behaved like this.

I'm talking about Jeff Rossen, of NBC News in New York City (no, we're not talking about the local anchor in a farming town of 2,000 in the middle of the bible belt, not that there's anything wrong with that), and more notably, of the Today Show. Now, lest you think this has been a long-brewing rant, let me assure you that I've never heard of this guy before today, when he said something on the Today show that went way past what I don't get, straight into what-I-thought-had-quietly-passed-from-this-earth.

Maybe I've been living in a bubble. I'm pretty sure I have. I mean, I live in the first state in the U.S. where same-sex marriage was legalized, and I'm originally from the other coast--the part of the other coast where they went ahead and conducted same sex marriages whether they're legal or not. I live in a school district and work for a company where discrimination based on sexual orientation is not allowed. I've been thinkin' we're gettin' somewhere. I mean...not to be too coast-centric, but...IOWA? The ball is rolling, methinks. But you know what else methinks?

We've reached a point in our cultural evolution in which it just would not happen that a newscaster would use the word "faggot" on the air. It would simply not be allowed. There would be an outcry, followed by an apology, and likely a resignation. But the subtle--and not so subtle--cues remain. And it's a good thing, because it reminds us that ignorance remains. We've still got plenty of work to do, so don't put away your rainbow flag just yet.

Today's example? It was just unbelievable.

I'm sure you have heard the story of the "craigslist" murderer. It's playing out right here in our fair city of Boston, and it's got all of the appropriately lurid elements that keep people glued to their televisions. My primary reaction to this case is that I wish they would stop calling it that, and I hope it doesn't hurt craigslist, because I think craigslist is great, and not only because I found my furniture, current home, some fantabulous possessions, and former babysitters and jobs there. I just think it's a little glimmer of what community is supposed to be in a sea of self-absorbed people who get away with talking to themselves as they walk down the sidewalk simply because they have a little bullet shaped device in their ears (me, I don't buy it).

So today, as you may know, shocker of all shockers, the news reports that this man, Phil Markoff (in case you don't know, he is accused of killing one woman and assaulting two others, after contacting them on craigslist, where they were advertising "massage" and "escort" services) was also contacting men for sexual liaisons via craigslist. [insert gasp here if absolutely necessary]. It's a scandal because, well, it's murder. But it's MORE of a scandal because he's blond, tall, stereotypically good looking, engaged, and a graduate student. You know as well as I do that people like that don't do bad things. It's the other people who do bad things! Come on!

Well, anyhow, this story was reported on the Today Show today, anchored by our very own Mr. Rossen. You can watch the segment here, if you'd like. I don't have the stomach to embed it here. It's a big news story, I get that. But I'd like to call your attention to the following section of dialogue, between Mr. Rossen and a man that claims to have been solicited by Mr. Markoff.

Rossen: "This will be very difficult for his fiancee to hear."
Man: "It would be tough for anyone to hear, to hear that your fiance is saying that he's single and looking for sex online anonymously--"
Rossen: "With MEN!"
Man: "With men, with men dressing as women......" (the rest doesn't matter)

Yeah. I bet that will be the toughest thing yet. Never mind that her intended is accused of murder and assault. He was having sex with MEN! Give me an effin' break.

Don't get me wrong. His fiancee has all my sympathy. All of it. She must be in terrible shock, wondering if this is all true, destroyed by the rapidly growing body of evidence, questioning who she thought she was engaged to, overwhelmed at the prospect of an envisioned future destroyed, maybe even fearful of the vulnerability she exposed to this man she was about to marry. She has every right to feel absolutely anything that she feels. What a terrible experience for her. But to suggest that finding out that there were men involved as sexual partners is among the most disastrous news just seems ludicrous. Sure, it's another thing to add to the pile. But he may have killed someone! Shouldn't having sex with men fall just a wee bit below that on the "shock and awe" scale?

So, as I say, I looked him up. I had to. (I like to know things.) And I found this clip from another news show, in which another anchor calls him a "drag king" (which is probably a good thing, because god knows what might happen if you used that "queen" word), and he responds by speaking in an effeminate lisping voice.

Who is this guy? I've been reading more about him for awhile now. He's pretty successful in broadcasting. Lots of credits under his belt (so to speak).

I live in a blue-state bubble, and every once in a while, I realize that. This is a successful guy in a huge city. I know there are still plenty of people who behave like this, but I honestly didn't think they held high level reporting jobs for major networks. And the saddest part is that I bet that hardly anyone noticed.

On the other hand, he does have perfectly coiffed hair and a bit of an affected voice in his own right. So maybe there's more to this than meet the eye. Yeah, I can do stereotypes with the best of 'em.

Sunday, April 26

Metablogging

I love that prefix. I wish there was a way to use the term "meta-ing" to describe its use. Maybe now there is, 'cause I just said it. I mean, cognition (just call it thinking) is really interesting. But metacognition, thinking about thinking...now that's just fascinating (not to mention extremely cool). In my mind (a nice place to visit but you wouldn't want to live there), it's the reason that the Truman Show is such an interesting movie. I mean, it was a major studio release that, like all other movies, relied heavily on a fan base and a media-driven culture and economy to fuel its success, while really being a commentary itself on the inanity and maybe even immorality of those things. It's what makes parody funny.

I'm not the only one talking about it, that's for sure. 199,000 hits on Google is nothing to sneeze at (there's even a website, and apparently a non-profit at that, devoted to the topic!)though it seems maybe they're talking about something a little different, something a bit more like what I have seen going on a lot at Blogher (so it still must be alive and well, in contrast to this blogger's take on it, which implies that metablogging was dead and buried four years ago). I gotta say, though, that this one, is my favorite:

"The language of metablogging uses metaphors that emphasize communality and proximity, and thus offers an alternative to the social risks Reddy associates with the conduit metaphor. The associative principle of the "link" is central to the hypothetical information processing machine that Vannevar Bush calls the "Memex", as well as to hypertext theory; but in practice, the linking of electronic documents according to an architecture emulating individual mental associations has not been widely and democratically implemented until the emergence of the weblog phenomenon."

Okaaay. What?

No. Really. I love academics. Really. I do.

What most folks seem to regard as metablogging is blogs that talk about other blogs or blogs that talk about blogging. And by that, they mean blogs that discuss other blogs, or blogs that talk about "how to blog", i.e. the "practice of blogging". (bored yet?) That's not what I mean.

What I mean by metablogging (at least on this day at this time--it could change tomorrow, I'm like that), is the practice of reflection on our own process of blogging--a blogger blogging about their own blogging (don't you love it how words start to sound like nonsense syllables when you say them over and over? I love that). What I mean is more like what Kelly wrote when she asked loads of great questions, in exploration of what blogging actually is, in a wonderful post that really got me going when I was starting up a couple months back. More like what Maggie just said. Hmm. Maybe there's something in the water.

Yes, I have considered the possibility that it's what some of us write about when we don't have other things to write about, or because maybe, possibly, some of us think too much (ya think?).

The question remains. Why me? Why here? Why now? Well, I'll tell you.

This is a really interesting experience, blogging. It's a little self-contained microcosm, a snapshot that reveals who we are, not only to the reader, but to ourselves. It reminds us of things we have forgotten, or choose to forget, about ourselves.

For example, I see myself as a very self-motivated, somewhat driven (given the right context, not everywhere) person. For some reason, I frequently reject the idea that I need community or that I need the pressure of deadlines or the urging of coaches to do my best work. I cling to this notion despite truckloads--no, bargeloads--of evidence to the contrary. I see myself as someone who embraces being visible and successful--with the acknowledgement that self-promotion has always been a challenge. I see myself as someone a basically relaxed person with pretty high standards (those who know me would say that is a gross understatement--I can hear them laughing as I type), but not really a perfectionist (more laughter).

So it has been an illuminating experience watching what happened when I missed two days after 45 days of daily blogging, spurred onward courtesy of NaBloPoMo. Yeah, I know. It sounds little. It sounds silly. But becuase this is a public endeavor, there was no way to avoid watching what happened.

What happened? I stopped. The ideas were gone. The writing was gone. I missed two days. I strategized, as all NaBloPoMo folks sometimes do, about "catching up" or "filling in" with pre-existing unfinished posts. Nope. Two more days on. (So you missed two days, Robin. Just get back on the horse.) Still. Nothing. And completely coincidentally (and I mean COMPLETELY COINCIDENTALLY, OKAY??), the number of hits and comments on my blog were at an all-time high, suddenly up by a very significant margin, when I stopped writing eight days ago.

Oh, I did some fine rationalization. I thought about what Kelly wrote, about how it isn't important how many people read (which is true) and maybe it's even important to keep that number low (which is also true). I reflected on the feeling of many fine bloggers that stats are the work of the devil (also true). I thought of the other times that I struggled to "get back on the horse". I told myself that I had been traveling (which was true) and that cross-country travel with a 9 year old and visiting my mother allowed little time for anything else. I convinced myself that I just wasn't really thinking about much for that week (ha!). Most of all, I surprised the hell out of myself, simply by being who I have always been. Go figure.

Isn't this what writers say? (I ask as if I am not one, of course) The important thing is to write every day. The important thing is to keep writing. Get up every morning and write.

I guess what I'm saying is: I'm back.

Saturday, April 18

What I Learned On My Summer Weekend Vacation Trip to California

I learned that they now have wifi on planes. I am stunned to be blogging from 38,204 feet. If I seem a little lightheaded, you'll forgive me.

I learned that I don't think I remember how to play that dots game that I played a lot when I was little. I mean, I know about the dots, and the lines, and the initials, and the basic idea, but I don't remember whether you get extra turns when you get a square, and if so, how many.

I learned that the perceived length of flights is directly proportional to age and number of hot flashes, degree of turbulence, and the inclusion of a nap therein. In this case, the latter side of the question is "old, lots, way lots, and not a wink". You've got the data. Solve for x.

I learned that there are some very very kind people. I also learned that very very kind people are as few and far between as I have often contended. How did I learn this, you ask? Well, this is your lucky day, cuz I'm gonna tell you.

Phoebe and I flew out this morning on Virgin America (stop snickering). I was pretty excited about the cool planes and the wifi and movies and touchscreen ordering of food and all. (It is now verified as Genuinely Cool.) Unfortunately, Phoebe and I were not seated together. It's happened before, but I'd rather it didn't. So I went up to the counter (I also love online check-in), and asked if we could switch seats with anyone in order to sit together. The desk guy was really nice, and was literally moving people around like a Rubik's cube in order to make it work. He tried everything (it's a full flight). He even went so far (never saw this before) as to call up anyone who was traveling alone to see if he could do more juggling. He explained our situation to the people, and many of them were very kind about shifting. It still did not get us seated together, but we were closer.

Then, a wonderful woman stepped up to the counter, and said that she overheard something about a mom and child who wanted to sit together, and that she and her husband were seated together, but are both going to do their work, so they don't care if they sit separately. We traded seats with them, and it was done. She said she was speaking for her husband as well, even though he was off in the bathroom (surprise!), and when he returned he was every bit as laissez-faire as she was. Nice. They said they were on their way to their grandchild's christening in San Francisco, and if they were traveling with children or grandchildren, they'd want to sit with them to. Mensches. The finest kind.

She then asked (more than once) the ticket agent why they didn't call up couples and ask if they'd be willing to sit separately, and assertively expressed her feeling that that is precisely what they should do when something like this happens. He informed her that they do occasionally do that, but it is almost never the case that a couple is willing to do that.

So there ya go. Both sides of the coin. Yes, there are wonderful people in the world--generous, empathic, easy going, kind. And yes, they are just as rare as I sometimes hypothesize. It is unusual that I have an experience that validates both the idealist and the cynic in me. I love Buy-One-Get-One-Free days!

Friday, April 17

Tips for Job Seekers

Trivia Quiz: What is this?

Remember 45's? For the rest of you, the 90% of you, let's just say they were the predecessor of CD singles. Well....you know that single (metaphorical or otherwise) that Susan Boyle is about to release? Well, this, in my not so humble opinion, is the "flip side".

So, I'm making my rounds of the blogs that I really like this morning, trying to get inspired, and trying to catch up (there's a lot of good stuff out there!), and I come across this story about Kari Ferrell on a really interesting blog. Have you heard about this? Well now I have, and I have to say, after reading through lots of comments on various sites (and using way too many commas), that I'm feeling kinda alone here.

I'm also feeling kinda disgusted with myself for talking about this story at all, since I'm the sort who comes down hard on the people who make a story like this a media phenomenon, thereby producing precisely the sort of narcissistic supply that the subject of the story is after, thereby enabling them in multiple ways, thereby nothing except that there seemed to be a string of "therebys" here and I just got carried away.

(On that note, Ramblings of a Madman wrote yesterday that "one of the rules of blogging is to stay away from the stream of consciousness kind of writing", and one of his commenters said it's okay every once in a while because it's "helpful for your mind". This was a shock to my poor little system. I don't know what manual they got, but at the risk of stating the obvious, I got a different one. Oh. Wait. I didn't get one at all. But if I had gotten one....oh, who the hell am I kidding? Even if there were such a rule, and I don't know that there is, I wouldn't follow it anyway. I does what I likes here (and pretty much everywhere else). You read it, or you don't. I think you should, but hey, it's your life.)

What was I saying? Oh, I was saying how I can't stand those people who build people up into media celebrities by talking about them on their blogs.

At least I'm not posting a picture.

So, I read through all the comments, and people are commenting about her lies, about having met her, about the undeniable power of google, about the stupidity of employers, it goes on and on. But no one seems to be talking about what this story teaches us about employability in today's overwhelmingly tight job market.

You do remember the job market, right? You do remember that unemployment is at a 15 year high? You have noticed that one or two or more of your friends have lost their jobs? If you don't remember, here's a handy little flow chart to help you figure that out. But have no fear. We now have the story of valiant (if ill) Kari Ferrell, who can help us all understand how to become easily employed in the current job market, and without any of those pesky reference checks that we all love to hate!

Now, this is not a lesson or a story about Kari Ferrell, and you know it. Sure, it's is a story about employers, most notably the total idiots at Vice (attention VC's who may be funding their endeavor....maybe it's time to check in on their operations, eh?). Then again, the quote in the article from the one person who works at Vice was "O.K., so she’s kind of abusing her role to get swag and fucking with people we work with—not cool." So maybe it's not a problem. Maybe it's a requirement. (I know, I know, I'm politically correct, I'm an old fogey, I'm out of touch. I yam what I yam.)

But here's the point I want to make (you knew I'd get there eventually). This is, first, and foremost, a story about us. It is, believe it or not, exactly the same story as the other one that is spreading like wildfire around the blogosphere and beyond, the story of Susan Boyle and her inspirational singing performance. Like I said, it's the flipside.

Of course. It's about appearances. It's about "the cool kids". It's about how phenomenally quick we are to make judgments based on appearance. It's about how completely stupid and stubborn we are about those judgments, sufficiently so to lose our grasp on reason and procedure, not to mention manners. (for what it's worth, it's also clearly about how men often make decisions with the wrong part of their anatomy, but that's a whole 'nother subject...) It's about how we all nod so vigorously, murmuring our "about time" and "that's right" and "people are awful" under our breath when Amanda Holden and Demi Moore remind us about "wakeup calls" and not judging people (because after all, Amanda and Demi certainly haven't bought or fed into that). Like we don't do it ourselves. Like we've been "cured" of our inclinations by one or two or forty exceptions. (have you figured out why Europeans think Americans are stupid yet?)

So attention all you job hunters. Forget about buying food for your children. You've got to think of your career. Here's what you need to do:

First, and most importantly, get a tattoo. It should be a large one, and visible, even you are fully dressed. And it should be "cool", so be sure to consult with someone under 25.

Secondly, be young. Very young. I know, you're saying that this is one thing you can't do anything about. I'm sorry about that. I can't help you there. Do you want to get a job or not?

Third, be brash and talk about sex a lot. I know, you tried that, and it didn't work. Try again. It makes you more appealing and believable...and successful!... when you talk explicitly about sex.

Last (and most importantly)...lie. Lie all over the place. But be cute and pixie-ish while you do it. And talk a lot--just a hair short of manic is good.

Write when you get work, K?

Tuesday, April 14

Could Be Worse


Here's what I don't get:  "It could be worse" (and its first cousin "Worse things could happen")

How, exactly, is that supposed to help?

The only thing it's got going for itself is that it's Sarah Vowell's motto.  I idolize Sarah Vowell. Here she is talking about people who compare themselves to Rosa Parks, followed by her original song entitled (guess what)  "Could Be Worse".



Still, with a voice like that, she can pretty much say anything she wants, so it doesn't really count.

This is more like what I mean:


My point exactly.

Monday, April 13

Is that your final answer?

I think it's time for a new game show.

It won't cost much, the sets are already done. I'm sure they'd loan 'em out.


I'm not sure about syndication or international versions. I'd have to do a little more research on that. I'm not sure that they're quite as stupid (there, I said it) about this stuff in other countries. But then again, given what I read today, there should be at least one foreign version.

Now, it isn't really anything new. I don't know why I only found it today. But having watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition last night (and cried my eyes out, mind you), it seems particularly to the point. This is the Kadzis family featured last night, complete with the dad, who advocated most directly for them to be granted a house. He was hospitalized with a terminal brain tumor one day before the ABC team arrived and passed away three days after the house was completed. He never saw it. This is a family comprised of two parents, one biological child, and six special needs children (one is blind, one is deaf, two had cleft palates) adopted at atypically older ages from China. The show also highlighted other families who had adopted children from China, who had been inspired by the Kadzis family. Who wouldn't be?


Then today, I read an article that highlighted the following policy:

The Chinese government imposed new regulations in 2007 to limit the number of international applications, putting more restrictions on prospective parents from outside China. The rules basically say you need not apply if you are single, overweight, deformed, taking anti-depressants or a net worth of less than $80,000. China has said the rules are in the best interest of the child.

I knew about the single part. It was regarded by many as a way to address the "problem" of gay and lesbian singles or couples (they had been banned previously) adopting as a single parent (sneaky queers). But in all this time, I didn't know about all of the other restrictions. Overweight?

(By the way, one of the children on ABC came to the family as a young teenager. She was deaf from birth, and had no language of any sort, including sign language. She is now communicating fluently in sign and, to the extent that she is able to speak, in English. I guess that wouldn't be a good thing if her parents were fat.)

Now, I fully acknowledge that China is a sovereign nation, and its government and people have every right to object to large numbers of Americans adopting Chinese children, taking them far from the land of their birth. They can--and should--do what they like and what they feel brings honor and respect to their children and culture. It's their call. There's no arguing with that. But there is a piece missing here. And it's not just about China.

It's about a friend of mine from chorus who is single handedly, painstakingly, deleading her entire house in order to make her eligible for adoption. No, it's not that I don't get the importance of lead abatement. I do. It just seems curious to me that the presence of a penis in a household could potentially influence the need for extensive remodeling. But it's not just about lead.

It's about the extensive parent training and education program that two couples that I know are undergoing in order to quality as foster parents in Massachusetts. Don't get me wrong. It's been a good thing, it's an important thing. There is no one more in favor of parent education and quality control of foster care than I am. It's not just about foster care.

It's about me, as a recently separated, overweight, lesbian, almost 51-year old, mom of a 9 year old who desperately would have loved to have siblings. It's about me, as someone who aged out of fertility as a result of a whole range of circumstances, who tried with passion unrivaled to bring her a biological sibling, and who spent years recovering from the effort. It's about having multiple graduate degrees and 30+ years of professional expertise in child development. It's about hoops. And it's not about me.

It's about the largely undiscussed discrepancy between two segments of the population: The ones who can get pregnant easily, "naturally" (I hate that word), perhaps carelessly, and those for whom that is either highly complicated or impossible, for any one of a myriad of reasons. In one situation, parents are people whose sperm and egg have produced a child, and in the other, parents are people who are "perfect" in multiple dimensions, or nearly so. That's quite a contrast, in my book.

It is about the primacy of biology, while insisting that we admire and value those who choose adoption. It's about the face we put on, and how it stands in contrast to the face that appears between the lines.
It's about preserving heterosexual privilege. It's about misogyny.

It's about control. It's about "freedom".

(Yeah, I'm aware that you're learning a whole lot more about me than you knew before)

It's about something I wrote about on this very blog. It's about the deep and abiding commitment that we have, in the U.S., to reactivity, to "closing the barn door after the horse is out". We say that we are a country that loves and values children, but we only put our money where our mouth is when they are already in trouble, already at risk. We say we are a country that believes heartily in the value of "family", but want to preserve the right to define that word as narrowly as possible, when it suits our purposes. If you think it's just me, read this NY Times piece by Roger Rosenblatt(I still have a hard copy of this article saved from 14 years ago).

You might think I'm arguing for a relaxation of the requirements for adoption (foreign and/or domestic) and foster care. I'm not. I'm arguing for parity. I'm arguing for authenticity in our societal investment and concern about children and their "best interest". You might think I'm arguing for a more socialist system. You might be right. You might not. All I know is that the current state of affairs points to an absurd level of discrepancy that does not reflect a concern for children's best interests, but rather a placing of adult rights over children's combined with a fear of liability.

There is no earthly reason why a 2 year old, living in poverty with a mother doesn't have the same right to a safe home and quality of parenting as a child in foster care. And sure, services are out there. But, if you can push a baby out from between your legs, it's all discretionary. If not, it's mandatory. I don't get it.

It's difficult to talk about this without the disturbing feeling like we are talking about children as a commodity, which I suppose we are, despite our fervent attempts to deny that that is the case. It's self-preservation, I get that. What caring person could see themselves in that light?

In the end, it's about children, and the revolutionary idea that they have rights. Rights that adults cannot--or should not--have the right to amend. As Kahlil Gibran says, "Your children are not your children". We do not own them.

Which brings me back to the game show thing. "Who Wants To Be A Parent?". Let's do it.

Open auditions. No distinctions. Gay, straight, disabled, tall, short, fat, thin, old, young, rich, poor. Answer a few questions. Use your "call a friend" as a character reference. A, B, C, D....the right answer will always be the one that is in the "child's best interest". Let's see how we do.

And no, I am NOT advocating mandatory birth control , legislating "good parenting", or separation of children from their families. I am talking about easy, available, effective birth control, I am talking about more thorough parenting education in schools, in hospitals, in clinics, I am talking about universal home visiting and early education, I am talking about enhancing resources that will help families to stay together and thrive in the richest country in the world.

Let's get it out there in the open. Is it about children's best interests, or is it about us?

We have evolved (devolved?) into a country where people are more likely to believe and follow what they learn on television than what their doctor tells them. If it takes a game show, so be it.

Addendum:  A kind reader left a comment in which she reminded me of a very powerful piece of writing:  "Compulsory Heterosexuality" by Adrienne Rich.  You can read it here.

Sunday, April 12

A Parallel Universe

So it turns out that I live backwards. No joke.

This is something I learned today. Oh, and that lots of people are worried about their yards being taken over by ground bees. But the first thing is more interesting.

I'm sitting here saying to myself that I really ought to think this out better before I try to explain it in writing, and that's no doubt true. But sometimes, I figure things out through writing, and this, it appears, is going to have to be one of those things. In the meantime, I have enough trust to believe the words as they come to me, and this time, they're telling me that I live backwards. Who am I to argue? Okay. Fine. I live backwards.

Here are some examples:

I know things before they happen, instead of after.
I prefer being underwater (where humans cannot breathe) rather than on land (where we can, unless we live in Los Angeles).
I have an unusual fondness for spelling and pronouncing names backwards, starting with my insistence, at age 8, that I be referred to as Nibor, which I still think is a great name.
I often read magazines from the back. (Maybe this is why I don't read mysteries)
I have hot flashes that start in my feet, even though I read everywhere that they start in the head or neck.
I eat dessert first.

There are lots more.

I'm thinkin' this explains a lot of things.

I understand, it was a hot day, and I like to swim, too, but really....

Thank heavens for friends who pass on valuable information.  Thanks, Jane.

So, did you see the news story today about the woman in Germany who climbed into a polar bear enclosure at the zoo and jumped into their swimming moat--at feeding time no less? Guess what happened?   The polar bear bit her.  Imagine.

 The bear attacks the woman during feeding time at the zoo.

I'm only including this here to remind you that this is Not a Good Idea.  Just so you know.  You'll thank me some day.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite things--The Darwin Awards.  The polar bear adventure would be called a "Near Miss" under their criteria, since the Darwin Awards exist to honor those who improve the species by accidentally removing themselves from it.  It's one of my favorite things.    

Check it out.  You'll feel really good about yourself.

Friday, April 10

Where I Come From

I am firmly of the mind that a good rant every once in a while is good for your health. Kinda like a juice fast. Clears things out. So here goes.

Here's what I don't get: New England.

Again, I'm taking my life in my hands here, I know that. It's okay, I'm used to it.

Last time I tried to talk about this stuff, I got jumped on all over the place. Geographic defensiveness. There's nothin' like it. I felt like saying, "geez, I was just talking about my own experience, it doesn't have to be the same as yours, you're not personally responsible for it, I'm just really used to a different way of life, blah, blah, blah". It didn't seem to make any difference. People get how they get.

First, I should say that it's kinda unfortunate that I don't get New England, because I've lived here for an appalling amazing 15 years. I take some comfort in the fact that, now and again, I meet someone who has lived here for even longer, and who still doesn't get it. The rest of the time I just vascillate between being discouraged and thinking that those people who have told me that I must be socially crippled and so fully responsible for the disconnect are right. But then something happens. Like today. But I'll get to that in a minute. Let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

About three years ago, I started another blog. It never took off--for me or for anyone else. Maybe I wasn't quite this brilliant then. :) It was called "Where I Come From" (and interestingly, it's subtitle was "Things I Don't Get". Prescient, eh?). I think it was my first real attempt at figuring out why there are just so darn many things I don't get, and testing the hypothesis that if you don't get where you live, things just go downhill from there. I still like the name though, and still stand by the thesis on some level, even if only out of stubborness (although I prefer the word tenacity).

See, here's the thing. I'm from California. More precisely, I'm from the San Francisco area. And more precisely than that, the Peninsula. But get this: I didn't move to New England from California. No, that apparently would have been too gentle an adjustment for me. I moved to New England from Honolulu. Yup.

Bing! Time for a qualifier! I do not idealize where I come from. It's got its issues. I don't even idealize Honolulu, which is pretty darned easy to idealize. And I don't hate Boston, by any stretch of the imagination. Those would all be a bit more black and white than I really care for. But you know, grey can still have its shades as well, and some days it's a little more slate-like than others.

So, here's what it's like in California (for the most part) and Hawaii (for a bigger most part). Or at least here's what it is and was like for me. Here's the five principles of how friendship works where I come from:

1) Spontaneity: People regularly invite one another to go to lunch or dinner or a movie or a walk or just to go grocery shopping without planning it advance. They regularly accept, too.

2) Informality: People don't need to do something "special", they might just invite a friend to go to the mall with them or help them put together a bookcase, even on the spur of the moment. Or they just drop by one another's houses and hang out and talk.

3) Lack of Exclusivity: People don't tend to reserve a lot of time for just being with their spouse, or just being with their family, or just being with their extended family. It's not at all uncommon to call friends who are a couple on a Saturday night, and have them say "Oh, we're just headed out the door to dinner, you wanna go?"

4) Reciprocity: You invite people to a party at your house, they usually invite you to a party at their house. You ask someone to lunch, and they usually ask you to lunch. People say "We should get together again sometime" and you do.You get the idea.

and
5) Something I like to call "ease of contagion", which means that you go to a party, you meet friends of friends there, and the following week those people call you and invite you to do something (or vice-versa). In this way, pretty much anyone's social circle grows pretty quickly.

(I have my own ideas about why these things are true, but that's probably for another post--I'm already taxing your attention span as it is!)

Now, let's see...Boston? So easy. Take all of those things, and reverse them. Ta-da!

Here's where the Boston folks start saying I'm dissing them. No, I love my friends here. I'm just sayin' how it is from an outsider's perspective, which it's not possible to have if you haven't been an outsider...and no, sorry, coming here from somewhere else for college doesn't count because college is like a built-in social network that doesn't exist at other times of life, and you're living among tons of people who are all in the same situation.

You know, that defensiveness can get to you. You start thinking (as I do) that you're just whining, or you just haven't found the "right people" (in 15 years?) or you're just too introverted, or you just don't try hard enough, or (this is my favorite one) that you're just making it up, it was never really different in other places.

And that's when things start happening.

Like a couple months ago, when I was facilitating a training session of about 20 teachers, and in our introductions, people were supposed to share something interesting about themselves, a teacher said she moved to Boston from the midwest 30 years ago and still isn't used to it.

And like recently, when I was visiting in California, and was able to make social plans for every day that I was there with no advance planning (including with a neighbor of my mother's who I barely know!).

And like today.

Bing! Second qualifier! Boston folks: This is not a gripe. I actually got a great laugh out of it. Put the bat down.

Today, in the middle of the afternoon, I posted on Facebook that I was thinking of going to the movies tonight and put out an open invite in case anyone wanted to join in. A lot of people, a few people, nobody, anything would work for me, just putting it out there (just for reference, I have 134 "friends" on Facebook; 54 of them are in the Boston area). I got six enthusiastic Yes! answers (yay!) for tonight. Five were from California, one was from Seattle. I haven't stopped laughing (and shaking my head) all evening. Hmm. Maybe I'm not making this up.

(To be fair, I also got a response from one local friend as well, and we'll try to hit a movie on Sunday. She knows I love her, she "gets" this phenomenon, and she certainly shouldn't be missed here!)

I know. When in Rome.... I have done that, the Rome thing, and I have a lot of friends and activities here. But no matter how many friends I have, it will always be alien, it will never be "what I'm used to", it will still strike me in the empty spaces. It's like when you move to a country where they don't speak your first langauge. You can learn to speak their language, maybe even fluently, but you may continue to think (and dream!) in your first language for years to come. Maybe if you've lived on both coasts, you'll get it. Otherwise, maybe not. C'est la vie.

Okay, so I don't adjust quickly. I admit it. Old habits die hard; we are all the products of the places we were raised. It's just that I've never lived anywhere before where people felt they had "enough friends" or no time for more. I don't even know what that means.

Or maybe I'm just bitter. That could be.

Thursday, April 9

The Fifth Question of Passover


Here's what I don't get:

Why isn't there any Easter candy that's Kosher for Passover?

Discuss amongst yourselves.  Report back.

 (before I go to get my tzimmes out of the oven....credit must be given where credit is due:  This most excellent line of inquiry proposed in 1995 by Ben Michaelis, New York City.  It has stuck with me all this time.)

Repeat After Me

Sometimes--only occasionally--sleeping is more important than writing.

This is one of those times.

My impending nervous breakdown might make for some great writing (especially when it happens), but somehow, that's just not quite enticing enough.  Go figure.

On top of that, in browsing my favorite blogs tonight, I read of two fellow bloggers (women) whose children have died in the past couple of days.  It's really too much for me to process, with my wonderful daughter sleeping blissfully  in her room, and it's really too much to try to write about much of anything else.

Be back tomorrow.  Good night.

Tuesday, April 7

Economics? Me? Here? Now?

Okay, folks, hold on..I'm switchin' gears for a minute.

Time for a little story (got your fuzzy slippers on?).

The story is, at heart, about memorial services. Yeah, the kind that happen when people die. Don't let it throw you off. It's about being a dutiful daughter or a family member of someone who clearly indicate that , when they pass, they want it to be without mention. A little blip on the radar screen that just goes away. That's it. No adoration, no obituary, no burial.

It's about the people who say, upon hearing of that stated preference, "Did anyone tell him that the memorial service is not for him?" (but for the comfort of those left behind). It's about the awareness that the deceased would understand that, but still want their wishes honored. It's about the obligation to honor them.

It's about the phenomenon of childhood (and to some extent, adulthood) called "magical thinking" in which we think we can cause things to happen just by thinking about them and it's first cousin, superstition, also known as "sympathetic magic".

It's about that phenomenon by which, after someone's death, we do double-takes, thinking we have seen them on the street--we see people who look like them. It's about our awareness that new people and events remind us so intensely of the person who is gone, that we begin to wonder about the nature of the universe and the connections and properties that we don't have any way of understanding. It's about a daughter with a deep belief in the practical existence of other layers of consciousness for which we don't have names, or even descriptors.

It's about my dad.

[Dad? Listen. This is not a memorial. Don't get all upset. I know you wouldn't like that. This is about me. And better yet, it's about economics, something I bet you thought I'd never be writing about or interested in. That part would make you laugh, I just know it. So let's just go with that, okay?]

So....(deep breath)....here we go.

This is my dad:
This is my dad when he was young (suave, eh?):
And this is Paul Krugman:


Huh? INTRUDER! Just as stealthily as he has made his way into the national conversation about economic policy, he has inserted himself, right here, right now, into MY blog (Geez, he has his OWN, what does he need mine for?), and in my story about my dad, no less!

(It's okay. I did it. He belongs here. Put the dogs away, and I will explain.)

We're gonna do something different here. We're gonna start at the end.

My dad, Robert Einzig, died on June 29, 2007, at a young 85. That's almost two years ago now, which I can scarcely believe. He died of an aggressive leukemia/lymphoma that was not even diagnosed until a week after his death. The time from his "falling ill" to his death was less than 24 hours, not enough time to get to the coast he lived on from the coast I live on.

You already know how he felt about memorial services.

He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered, from a small plane, over the Pacific Ocean, not far from Half Moon Bay. Bye, Dad. End of story. At least as far as he was concerned.

But then, things started to happen.

The first thing that happened was that, along with my sisters, I stayed. I cleaned. I organized. And I found out that I was now "in charge" of keeping track of the finances (because hey, I'm a child development consultant, and the parallels are clear).

Here's how that kind of thing works, I now understand. When a parent dies, and there is more than one child, it turns out that for any given task, there is a child who is what I call "The Person" (Capital T, Capital P). And if you are The Person for a particular task, then you just are, there's nothing you can do about it. It's not influenced by geography, like, for example, if you happen to live on the opposite side of the country while you have siblings who live a few minutes away. It's not influenced by your experience and particular skill set. I'm living proof of that. It's influenced by your surviving parent, and that's about it. We are pawns in the game of life. Admit it.

In the days following his death, I thought and talked very little about what my dad did for a living, and a lot about the drawings that he did in college that were still located, after all these years, in the drawer in the living room. I thought about his drawers and boxes and shelves full of art supplies that he loved but hardly used (sounds like someone I know). I thought about the stories about how he wanted to be an artist, but how it wouldn't provide for a family (you're tellin' me). I thought about what I needed to mark this passage, to keep him with me. And I started to make the jewelry that I had envisioned for years before his death. It's still going. You can read the whole story on my website..it's all there.

But that is not all. Oh, no, that is not all.

My dad was an economist, a prominent one in his day. He worked for the Federal Reserve, was an officer at Transamerica, consulted with companies all over the world, taught graduate economics at Berkeley, and consulted to presidents. The way I knew he was "prominent" was because he was on TV talking about things I didn't understand when I was a kid. That was it. Even in black and white. "Daddy's on TV!" and I'd run into the TV room to watch. But mostly, he was my dad.

Now, he had the great misfortune (it was a family joke) to have four daughters, none of whom went into economics or finance--we are all in either social services or writing, or some combination thereof. In his later years, though, as I became more interested in learning about his field, he would always answer all of my questions. He seemed to know everything--not just because he was my father--but because he would predict things or explain things, and then a few days or weeks later, they would show up in the NY Times. It amazed me. When pundits predicted dire economic trends, I would call him and say "Is it true, Dad?" And he would say, most often "No.". Or sometimes "well, here's what's going on...." followed by his prescription for remedying it. All the pundits would disagree. I'd challenge him, because "they said...". And a week later, the paper would announce exactly what he had said. They'd changed their minds, or maybe they just "understood it better".

The one other thing that bears mentioning is that my father, as a Jewish intellectual who grew up poor and was a veteran of World War II, had a, shall we say, "healthy" overt disdain for a lot of things and a lot of people (which clearly distinguishes him from me, eh?). Economists seemed to be pretty high on that list. He seemed to think that pretty much everyone who was quoted in the papers was, in his words "not so bright" (or worse) and clearly did not have a very sophisticated understanding of finance (by his standards, of course).

But for years, and years, whenever I visited, he would always say "Now that Paul Krugman....now THERE'S a smart one." Praise upon praise. I had never seen him refer to anyone else in this way. I figured that Krugman must agree with him, that's why he thought he was so bright. :) That's the kind of person he was, what can I say. I kept thinking that one of these days, I'd find out who this Paul Krugman person is. But I didn't, becuase, well, like I said, I'm in child development.

So a year passes. And then a few months more. The economy is taking a nosedive, and I'm thinking that maybe my dad was holding it all together, since he understood everything, and now that he's gone, it's headed straight into the toilet. (see what I mean about magical thinking?) And I'm wondering how I'm going to learn more about finances and financial planning and wondering how I wound up being The Person about this, and who would I ever ask for help when he was the only one I ever asked, and would my dad be proud of me for managing it or would he be shaking his head and making that "tsk" sound he often made. I was worried.

It was October 12, and I was driving around in my car, here in Massachusetts, and suddenly, out of absolutely nowhere, it came into my head. I have no idea why it took so long. Paul Krugman! If I tried to listen to and read and understand Paul Krugman (to the best of my ability), it would be the closest thing I could get to listening to my dad. Paul Krugman! That's it! I knew nothing about him. But I got to work.

The next morning, Paul Krugman won the Nobel prize in economics. This is what he said about it on his blog. One line. I cried all day. I called my mom. She already knew.

This kind of stuff happens to me. All the time.

So now I read Paul Krugman's blog every day. He's a brilliant economist (my dad said so), and he explains things well. And he's also a real person, a real blogger, posts up to 6 times a day. Today, his blog was about getting stuck in an airport and having to listen to reports about Sarah Palin's daughter and her boyfriend. It's kind of unreal.

This week, a lifesize picture of Paul Krugman's face graces the cover of Newsweek. I feel like some kind of secret trendsetter. It's an incredible article, by the way, (click on the picture to access it), even though this is what he had to say about it.

http://bagnewsnotes.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8341cc90353ef01156e856cdc970c-pi

Read it. It's not too heady. It's important stuff. And heck, this is the closest thing to a memorial service my dad will ever have (sshhhh), so let's just say "you're doing it for a friend in the army".
If it worked for Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, it can work for you.

I'll just sit here and wait for the next weird thing to happen.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming....

Monday, April 6

I am, like, SO digital.

A couple of weeks ago, I went out to dinner with some friends who were visiting from New York who both have iPhones (as do I), and one of them mentioned that she doesn't read books much anymore (!!!) Not since she got a Kindle. I said, "Wow, you have a kindle? You really like it?" What I meant by that was "Are you serious? I can't imagine reading on a little screen instead of on the printed page, and why would someone pay $359 just to read a book, when you could buy a lot of books for the same price, or better yet, get 'em free at the library (unless you're like me and forget to return 'em in which case they are not free anymore)??"

It would have made a good blog entry, since it's something I don't get. Oh. Wait. This is it.

So anyhow, I went along with my life, rum-tum-tiddle-um-tum, continuing to marvel at the wonders of the iPhone and the gazillions of available apps (that's what people who are, like, SO digital call applications, which is all the little programs that make the iPhone do..well, everything). I love the thing. I'm not usually one to say that a small electronic device "changed my life" (well, with one possible exception), but in this case, I have got to say that it has done just that. I carry almost nothing with me anymore when I go out because, well, it's like Prego. It's in there.

And then. Then. I discovered something. I discovered that Kindle is a downloadable app (ooh, look at me talking like I'm technologically literate or something). A free downloadable app. Oh my god, the things I could buy by saving $359! (just kidding, just kidding).

Suddenly I started to think. And retract a little bit. Or a lot. Hmm. Maybe I judged the wee device too harshly. Maybe I spoke out of turn--after all, I've never really seen one in use. Maybe I judged a book by its cover. (har!)

It's free. I could download it, and check it out, just for fun. No muss, no fuss. If it's as stupid as I think it is, I could just delete with the press of one button, just like the other free apps that I decided I didn't really like. No big whoop.

I'm reading The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell. All 992 pages. Three pounds in hardcover.

It saves your place for you. Way cool.

I'm only doing this for you, you know. I thought you'd want to know.

Sunday, April 5

I'm sorry, am I bothering you?

I don't get salespeople or cashiers who are clearly irritated by the presence of a customer.  No.  Wait.  I got that wrong.  They don't mind customers.  After all, we spend money (and what else would they do if we weren't there?).   Mea culpa.  What they mind is customers who speak.  Or smile.  Or ask a question.  Or pretty much anything else that indicates that they are present, other than handing over money without making eye contact.

Today, I'd like you to meet Phyllis.  Yes.  I noticed her name.  She works at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, one of those big box stores that I dislike, but it's next door to Trader Joe's (which I like) and I needed a kitchen scale. Maybe, through some miracle of synchronicity or karma she will read this.  Wouldn't that be fun?  Yes.  It would.  Or maybe her manager will read it.  Even more fun!  (Or maybe she is the manager.  Which would figure.)

Here's how it went.  

I stepped up to the counter dutifully, eyes appropriately averted (except for that time that I looked at her name badge), and put my stuff on the counter: a kitchen scale, and a few 50% off frames (2 8x10's, 1 5x7).

She rang them up.  I watched to make sure the 50% off price was reflected.  Crazy registers at that store by the way.  The display shows the discount, but not the price--for example, when she scanned one, it said -12.50 .  I knew they were half off, so I knew the price, but wouldn't make more sense to have the price show up, rather than the discount?    And God have mercy on us all if the scanners break (are you old enough to remember when cashiers knew prices by memory?  Yes.  It's true)

So I had bought two 8x10 frames.  And when she rang one up it said -12.50 and when she rang the other one up, it said -13.50.  That's where the trouble began, horrible customer that I am.

I stopped her. I asked very nicely about why they would have rung up as different prices.  She didn't look up and didn't look at the items or their price tags in any way.  She just looked disgusted, and said "Maybe because they're different prices."  Hmm.  Interesting explanation.

I mentioned that I had thought they were the same, but I started to look at them more carefully, just in case they were, in fact, different in some way, in which case I would throw myself on the ground and grovel in penance for challenging the Authority of Phyllis.  I understand the rules.

As I was looking at them, she deigned to look over at the frames for a brief second, and made her grand pronouncement.  She had figured it out.  She knew why they were different.  She still sounded phenomenally irritated.  And here's what she said:  "This one is white."  (she meant the mat inside the frame.  The other one was cream colored).  

And here's where it gets ugly.  Hold on to your hats.  I said (biting my finger here) "I don't think that a different color mat would account for a two dollar difference in price.".  Uh-oh.  One of those 1970's radicals with a Question Authority bumper sticker on her car who doesn't understand the first principle of physics:  Scanners are always right.  Or the second law of physics:  Reason is irrelevant.  Yup.  That's me.

In the meantime, I had actually noticed that the wood frame was a little bit fancier (with the emphasis on "a little bit"--it's hardly different).  And I had decided that that's probably why the bots who priced these made that one two dollars more.  And I had decided that, given the sale price and Chain Saw Phyllis, it wasn't worth arguing.  So I just said something like "Never mind, I figured it out" and I let it go.  

Good thing I'm not a troublemaker.  (really, I'm one of the nicer customers, especially here in Massachusetts where smiling at strangers is an offense punishable by death)

I know.  I know all about working for minimum wage, and the curse of mindless jobs, and how we all have bad days once in a while (or more than once in a while), and how she'd no doubt rather be doing something else, and about elitism.  Still.  Did people love mindless work any better 30 years ago? Were they making six figure salaries back then in the good old days?  Does being surly make her job any better or her wretched day pass any more quickly?  Call me an elitist.  Call me an old fogey.  I don't get it.

Thank you for shopping at Here's What I Don't Get.  Have a nice day!