Dear Readers: You’ve been sending me the questions and I have been looking at them. Not forming coherent answers but simply staring at them as if they were inexplicable clamp-like devices used during brutal organ-removal on farm animals, or to hold together a meat-grinder for making ham salad. Maybe Bedouin handcuffs, I don’t know. That accomplished, I shall now attempt to offer my peculiar brand of non-wisdom. You’re welcome.
Question: Is taking the shoulder pads out of an 80s –style vintage sweater upcycling, or destroying the integrity of a vintage garment?
Haven’s Answer: A sweater can’t be said to have integrity. Even a flawlessly executed couture gown appears beautiful unworn, but only reaches its full potential when inhabited by a body that illuminates its purpose. The integrity might be compromised if the dress were donned by an egregiously ill-advised body type, but the moment the dress and the ideal form are reconciled, no harm is conclusively done.
With vintage clothing, in particular an item from the notorious aesthetic disaster known as the 1980s, no part of the garment can be said to have integrity but the seam. All other alterations stand a fair chance of emerging as improvements – the substitution of more subtle buttons, the removal of pleather, etc., — but the destruction of the seams leaves one with something other than a garment at all. A sweater becomes an unraveling afghan with sleeves, a dress returns to a more natural state of flatness, like a table cloth. All questions of integrity should be focused on what, ultimately, makes an item of clothing the name by which it’s known, the violation of which changes its essential purpose: there alone you will find integrity.
For god’s sake, remove those shoulder pads as quickly as possible.
Our next query comes from Arty-Tart, in Cool City, America. Arty writes:
Question: What do you do when you’re afraid to create? This is not the same as blocked, but actually afraid of what will be revealed? Is it scary dealing with authentic truths, and if so how do you deal with your emotions while continuing production/work?
Haven’s Answer: I’d like to address these questions out of the order in which you posed them, Arty, if you don’t mind. “Is it scary dealing with authentic truths?” In all candor, whatever fear or discomfort accompanies the full-on apprehension of what is authentic and what is true pales considerably in comparison to living in thrall to falsehoods and dishonesty. In fact, I would say I’m far more afraid of failing at being both genuine and honest – and it would be a failure – than I am at the approaching Undeniable.
Your first question is what I do when I’m afraid to create. In my experience that anxiety is located in a variety of stages of the process. I might be afraid to mentally stand in the empty field of consciousness, buffeted by winds, and wait for the form or the characters or the plot to be revealed to me. I’m often afraid of failing the book itself, or my readers. I’m afraid my ego will infect my prose and render it corrupt. If it’s revelation I’m worried about, I wait and wait until I the energy compelling me is not impulsive but sure; when it’s failing the book or my readers stopping me, I remind myself that I can always throw it all away and begin again; and when it’s an ego-corruption of the sentences themselves, I simply slip my ego a roofie and write while it’s unconscious.
I’m never afraid of what will be revealed. [Please see: the value of authenticity, above.] As Thoreau said, “The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths the mind travels. Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
I might be idiosyncratic in this belief, but I’m convinced nothing Real cannot be faced, regardless of the psychic discomfort it generates. There are ways of dealing with the psyche to mitigate that discomfort anyway. My daughter said something interesting to me yesterday: I was all tizzified prior to Amanda’s wedding, worried we’d be late or not be able to find the tucked away park where it was being held. Most of all, as I said to K., I was anxious for her and for John, who were providing the music. I said, “I feel what the two of you experience exactly as if it were happening to me.” I was exasperated, and my tone SHOULD have conveyed what I was really saying: “So I wish you’d practiced a neurotic amount of time, until even the silences between each note were perfected, so I could relax.” But K. is not that sort of woman, and she said, in her breezy, sweet way, “Well, bless your heart, you should be grateful to feel empathy so deep and constant. Some people can’t feel anything at all.”
Finally, I would pull out that tired, old saw: Feelings Are Not Facts. The fact is, you are an artist and you have to work every day. Work is what makes us more fully human, and sublimes our days. Feelings are fleeting – they enter our consciousness and vanish like smoke – and in my experience the better way to live with them is to let them rise up, let them have their say, let them disappear into the dark sky. And then get back to work.
French exchange student Gigi is hitting the open road, and asks:
Question: Haven, if I were going on a road trip, what ten or so CDs should I bring with me? I don’t want Greatest Hits CDs either, maybe two at most.
Haven’s Answer: Well, Gigi, I struggled with this question, as music is purely a matter of taste and I can’t begin to guess what might make you happy. After much thought I settled on this: I would take 20 instead, allowing for a greater number of errors in judgment. I’d choose my favorite CD from a variety of genres, such as one or two singer/songwriters, a classic country, an outlaw country. I’d need at least four jazz recordings, one superior example of hip-hop or rap, two soundtracks, one disc of opera (not an opera in its entirety, but perhaps a collection of my favorite arias, or just my favorite Caruso). I tend to keep at least a dozen mix-CDs in my car at all times, ones I made myself, because I am super excellent at the form (forgive me, but there’s no denying it) and like having individual songs I love lined up that way. Those are always the ones I listen to the most, and I highly recommend it for your trip, which I see you’re keeping secret, as is your right, of course, and is probably your tendency as a French. Bon voyage!
This query comes from Spindy Loo Hoo in Wichita, Kansas, a city my friend Julie lived in for a few years and became convinced was populated with aliens. Spindy writes:
Question: We have a stuffed owl in our den. Yes, a real owl. My father-in-law shot it and then stuffed it himself with a home taxidermy kit in the late 1940s when he was a teenager (when it was not illegal to shoot an owl).
My question is this: the owl has a broken wing (it was fine when mounted, but got broken when packed and moved years ago, sometime between Texas and Colorado–what can I say, F-I-L worked for Amoco and they got transferred every other year). Is there some taxidermist who will fix this for us, or are we going to get hauled off to jail for having an illegal bird of prey if we try?
I like the owl but the broken wing is creeping me out a little (it sags). What should I do?
Haven’s Answer: Spindy, I love how you qualify your first statement with, “Yes, a real owl,” as if I of all people would even blink at such a notion. So dear.
While I know a fair amount about taxidermy, including about which animals it is legal or illegal to own, I decided to turn this over to experts, my friends and brilliant taxidermists, Troy and Lindy Smith. They answered:
Good Morning Haven,
Troy looked at the photograph of the owl and he said that the problem with trying to fix one would be that the mount is very fragile (basically like a cracker)…if you move any part it just crumbles. He said it would probably be best if they just try to put a stiff wire under the break if it would support or to find the crack and superglue it and see if that would hold it. He said he would hate to take the chance of messing up someone’s heirloom from shipping damages or just simply trying to repair him.
Thanks for sharing this with us.
Have a great day!
Keep in touch.
I suspected this would their response, as taxidermy is difficult to repair under the best of conditions, but heirlooms are nearly impossible, for a variety of reasons. Very old mounts used to be placed over clay forms set in a mold; alas, even hardened, baked clay crumbles easily and absorbs all sorts of barometric conditions. Some are stretched over wood (still talking about very old examples), which has its own problems. Today taxidermy artists use resin forms, which are a great improvement. Birds, however, remain difficult to mount even when the fowl in question is legal and doesn’t have to be moved under cover of darkness and using three anonymous vehicles. I’d be afraid to touch a 40-year-old owl with a broken wing, even though I can fix most anything with Beauty Parlor and ultra-adhesive mini-wax. I’d go with a wire under the break (or mini-wax at the seam of the break!), and cautiously at that. Best of luck, and if you attempt any repairs, send me new photographs.
T.T. from C.C. sends us this very nuanced and thoughtful dilemma:
Question: Dear Haven, I have been closely involved with a certain literary internet blog for about ten months now. I have become quite intimate with these people and have even met a sizable group of them in person. There was even a tryst – two nights in a quite fancy hotel in Durham which involved some …. room sharing. Recently, I was invited to join an actual book club near my home in Central New York. This involves “live people” who sit in an actual physical location and talk out loud about books. I feel guilty every time I meet with them.
My question is, Would this be considered unfaithfulness? Have I crossed the line in terms of fidelity? The rules of internet literary blogging are new to me, so I am unsure of my parameters. I look forward to your reassurance that I have not transgressed but will also accept a whack upside the head if I have strayed beyond the lines of moral decency.
Two-Timer from Cow Country
Haven’s Answer: Two-Timer, I want to be gentle in my response because I really like cows.
a) Guilt is the appropriate response.
b) Yes, it is an act of unfaithfulness.
c) Fidelity has been wounded, for certain.
d) I’d like to see hard evidence your new friends are “alive.”
Best of luck! And don’t forget to sing Italian opera to your stock – cows make better milk when sung to.
Sad Who Is A Neighbor has a pressing problem, from Sadlington, Massachusetts:
Question: Dear Haven – I am in a quandary! My adorable next door neighbors got married last month and now for some reason they think they need a bigger house, probably in a nicer neighborhood, with much cooler and probably younger and more attractive neighbors. Ok, I don’t know that for certain other than that they got married and they have put their house on the market. I don’t think they thought about my feelings when they made this decision. So, since I obviously know what is best for them (that they should live next to me forever) should I sabotage the sale? And if so, how? Stink bombs in the air vents? Should I get naked and put on a gorilla mask and hide in the bushes when prospective buyers come and then jump out and scream, “whoo hoo”? Your sage advice would be most appreciated.
Haven’s Answer: Oh, Sad! I am far too familiar with your pain. I too once had neighbors I adored, and wanted to grow old with. I shan’t name them (TOM AND NOELLE), but when they sold their house and took a job in a distant city I was so crushed, and mourned with such intensity, I couldn’t look at their house for nearly a year. Given my experience, I would recommend you sabotage your own neighbors’ life plans by whatever means necessary. The gorilla mask is a genius touch, but I would suggest you wear it whilst naked ON A TRAMPOLINE. Also? Powder-post beetles released in the kitchen; official-looking notices taped to the door, warning of “unusual levels of lead in this home’s water supply,” and, oooooo! See if you can get a pig to pop up in one of the windows for anyone visiting at night, as a voice booms, Get Out! If I can help in any other way, let me know.
RRR wonders what books she should take on her vacation:
Question: Haven, I am going on a relaxing vacation and am looking forward to catching up on some reading. I have room for 3 books in my bag. What should I take?
Reading Rhonda in Rushville
Haven’s Answer: Rhonda, I am of the thinking you are in the Rushville of my youth, the lovely town on the Flat Rock River, and if so I know there’s but a single answer to your entreaty: choose three superior books about Indiana, written by a Hoosier native. They are all you need. If you’re overwhelmed by your options, write again and we’ll do a thorough web search.
QDink from the Pinkerton Detective Agency gets all Jungy on the blog:
Question: Serious: Do you think Synchronicity really exists as a phenomena or is it just a subjective experience?
Frivolous: Which stuffed animals and dogs make the best surrogates for socializing with people?
Haven’s Answer: Q., I’ve recently re-read Jung’s book on Synchronicity, which in no way makes me an expert, but I think I can address your question from the layman’s level.
The best stuffed animals as substitutes for human interaction have always been judged to be: bears and dogs. One simply cannot beat those two in the stuffed category. Lately, however, we’ve seen some unexpected and fierce competition enter the field: the lion, the midget horse, the baboon, and the Animal of No Known Morphology, Which Is Maybe A Hobbit/Bear Hybrid Or The Bastard Child Of A Smurf And A Toad. The Hybrids tend to have alarming faces; their eyes are too big, and their expressions are obsequious and threatening at once. They typically have an unusual number of toes, and some make noise when squeezed. If this type is a natural human substitute for you, by all means get a few, and while you’re at it look for the number of a good therapist. Otherwise? Bears. Dogs. The end. Addendum: I note that you are also asking which DOGS make the best substitute for human companionship. Pretty much all of them, as far as I can tell. Randomly bred and shelter dogs are great. If the human companionship you wish to replace included smart people, Shiba Inus are impossibly smart dogs; border collies are TOO smart; and most working breeds can uphold their end of a conversation without too much interrupting. Poodles are notoriously bright, and I just . . . I can’t.
Ah, a domestic question! House-Hunting Sally wonders:
Question: Hi Haven!
Here’s a question to get your advice column going!
Should my husband and I buy a small house that is move-in ready, or for about the same price get a much larger fixer-upper house on an acre of land in Hillsborough, but it needs a lot of work? (we would probably do a little at a time) We love the idea of the fixer-upper, but scenes from The Money Pit have been flashing through my head. Also, we’re trying to start a family, and it’s difficult to imagine a baby crawling around a house that is a work in progress. And regarding the baby, I would like to keep working after having him or her, what’s your advice on childcare? (I have no family in the area). Daycare/day nanny/ live-in nanny?
Haven’s Answer: Sally, the only way your marriage will survive buying the larger fixer-upper is if one of you is a master carpenter with the work ethic of a Calvinist and no other job to get in the way. The “Money Pit” OUGHT to be going through your head. If there’s also a baby going through your head, let me tell you what will happen if you actually become pregnant: no surface will be clean enough, even if you force your Calvinist husband to scrub every surface with a water-pik and organic, baby-safe cleaning products. You’ll come to see dust as an enemy sent directly to torment you, and will, by week 37, insist that all the air in the house be replaced with air you have ordered from the Organic Baby Air Farm. Nails? Broken glass? Sheetrock? Fiberglass insulation? HAHAHAHA!!
Nanny: I do not know the meaning of this word you use. Live-in Nanny: I think the last of this breed was seen on the Brady Bunch, but I could be wrong. My first child stayed at home with me until she was four; when I had classes I arranged with her aunt or grandparents to watch her for a few hours every day. (Thank you, thank you, Heaven shine its golden twinkly light upon you, Betty, Duane, and Aunt Julie.) My older son stayed home until he was three; our nearest relatives were then nearly three hours away. I had decided to go back to graduate school, and so I put him in an in-home pre-school run by a black Muslim woman and her daughters. I chose her because her authority was so absolute she could say my son’s name, emphasizing the first syllable (it isn’t, generally) and he would simply sit down. I was in awe of her. J. and I have no family whatsoever to help, and so I wisely decided J. should stay home and give up all adult activities until the baby got married. J. decided to enroll him in a Montesorri morning program, beginning when Le Beeb was two-and-a-half.
If you are in a position to hire a nanny, Alice from The Brady Bunch ESPECIALLY, by all means do that. She had a way with cold-cuts, that woman.
Best of luck!
And finally, a series of esoteric puzzles from T.S., in Roswell, New Mexico:
Question: How does the TV, telephone, and computer transmit sounds and images? Tell me in a way a kindergartener would understand.
I have bigger questions, such as if God caused the Big Bang, what caused God?
And smaller questions: Why does the pinky toenail grow faster than the others? And why do men have nipples?
Haven’s Answer: Well, T.S., a kindergartener would never ask this question because they already know there are people living inside the television, acting out alphabets and dances and small tragedies, and those people can’t ever, ever get out. I fear you shall have to don your big girl pants.
“Television” is not a single entity, nor was it invented by a single person; similarly, contemporary televisions operate differently according to whether they are analog, cable, high-definition, or wired to receive a satellite signal.
Caselli was the first person to transmit a still image, in 1862, and he did so over wires. I don’t know how images travel through wires but tons of stuff does so I’m not surprised.
The next development was the marriage of selenium and light (1873), a process that could transform images into electronic signals. I saw this on Star Trek, the old one.
By 1887, because things move fast, a man named Goldstein had coined the term “cathode ray” to describe light emitted when an electric current was forced through a vacuum tube. Others in the field watched the same process and called it “screaming in agony.”
By 1900 scientists were dueling in the streets of Inventortown over which area to pursue in the further development of what was, even then, known as the “television,” the mechanical (rotating disks), or electronic model based on the cathode ray. Electronics won.
A critical turn in the reproduction and broadcast of still images came in 1923, with the introduction of Vladimir Zworkin’s “iconscope,” which he called an electric eye, and later his kinescope, the receiver which would display the images broadcast.
This is quite a shocker, I think – the patent for color television was registered in 1925, the same year television was first capable of projecting moving silhouette images. Hey, have you seen one of these, a moving silhouette? I’ve seen the one of Lincoln, and the train, and they’re spooky and great.
Now look at this: the first television studio was opened in 1929, even though the broadcast quality was so low the thing must have been run on squirrel-power; and by 1930 the first television COMMERCIAL was broadcast, so there you go. But also the BBC began to air on the new, jangly, slow-moving box.
After decades of tinkering with the cathode ray and spinning color wheels, satellite television was introduced in 1962, allowing for the broadcasts from the moon in 1969. While the first moving silhouettes operated at 30 lines of resolution, by 1981 that number was 1125 lines.
By 1996, high-definition was standard in the billion televisions worldwide.
Satellites are circling everywhere, and they receive and transmit both television and telephone signals. A single satellite can process 5,000 telephone calls and 12 different television programs in a single instance.
The computer transmits sounds and images via a series of tubes carried from house to house in the bed of a pick-up truck.
Your question about what “caused God” is addressed elegantly in Aristotle’s writing on the Unmoved Mover – it’s easy to find. Theology differs in opinion. However, I’ve never seen it suggested that “God” caused the Big Bang. If I’m wrong, please let me know.
The pinky toenail grows longer than the others because it is small and afraid and has a lot to prove. Men have nipples for nursing stray kittens, and to cause sexual excitement in potential mates. Why they have third nipples is a matter for television.
Please discuss amongst yourselves, and stay tuned for the next round of Ask A Writer Who Knows Nothing!