As of now, comments have been disabled on this blog. For that matter, this blog has been suspended on this blog. Thank you all for your friendship and your loving support.
As of now, comments have been disabled on this blog. For that matter, this blog has been suspended on this blog. Thank you all for your friendship and your loving support.
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!
I’m going to do the Questions column next, but I promised some people who were at my event last night with Frank Stacio I’d write this first. At the end of our talk in Raleigh, I gave my four or five minute position on same-sex marriage, and started a hullabaloo – of the good kind, as the people in attendance asked me to post something on the topic. So next week it’s Ask That Haven Person, this week, a pressing concern. (Frank, if you have any memory what segued into that discussion of same-sex marriage I’d be obliged.)
I’ve refrained from discussing the same-sex marriage movement because I tend to respect the sensibilities of the religious (even when they’re blindingly wrong), and because I’m not a legislator – I only know what is clear to anyone with a working understanding of constitutional law, or even to someone with a television-based understanding of the judicial system. But recently I’ve realized there are two types of people who believe they have any ground to stand on in opposing same-sex marriage: those who honestly don’t understand the elements at work (they’re genuine, and genuinely confused), and the grotesquely cynical. The cynical – and these are people who understand exactly why their campaigns are illegal, unethical, and not in keeping with the stewardship they righteously claim – far outnumber those who don’t understand the nature of the debate. That isn’t new, of course; each time in our history such a matter needed to be repaired, the brutes and the liars and the corrupt rose up and tried to obscure the vision of their constituency with base appeals to fear, to sentimentality, and patriotism. The irony escapes no one that left to his or her own devices, these are the same bigots who would destroy the actual foundation of this country.
“The preservation, propagation, and perpetuation of slavery is the vital and animating spirit of the National Government . . . slavery, slave-holding, slave-breeding, and slave-trading have formed the whole foundation of the policy of the Federal Government.”
— John Adams (Quoted in Kossuth, by Wendell Phillips)
If you find it disingenuous that I would bring up the government’s romantic claim to the necessity and sanctity of slavery in this discussion, then perhaps you fall under the category of the genuinely confused. In fact, the Constitutional amendments that ended slavery and guaranteed the civil rights of all Americans ARE the issue here.
The XIII Amendment, which abolished slavery, was ratified in 1865. The XIV, ratified July 9, 1868, reads (Section 1):
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Go ahead and read the rest of the Constitution. What you won’t find there is any suggestion that “marriage” is Constitutionally protected; that marriage is defined by particular gender parameters; or that the system now in place is promised to anyone, let alone one man and one woman. So let’s get that out of the way right now.
The Constitution of the United States does not declare marriage to be the fundamental right of any set of citizens.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that in the states same-sex marriage has been legalized, no Constitutional Amendment was necessary or called for. Blinding in its self-evidence, that’s because there is nothing to amend.
Abolition, women’s suffrage, the rights of freed slaves to vote, the right of black Americans to marry, the right of black and white Americans to marry: the Civil Rights movement proceeded on a simple and clear argument. If the government establishes rights and privileges and grants them to one group of people while denying them to all, the government is in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and is acting illegally.
Your personal beliefs about homosexuality, about the sanctity of one man/one woman unions – your religious affiliation, what you were taught, the notions with which you are most comfortable, your reading or misreading of the Bible: none of these are of the slightest issue. I’m sorry, but they are not. You are welcome to hold your beliefs as dear; you are welcome to rail about people different from you as much as you wish. If the government establishes rights and privileges and grants them to one group of people while denying them to all, the government is in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and is acting illegally.
Organizations seem to have a gift for walking through their ranks and zeroing in on a person whose jaw is both hinged and loose. The flappy-jawed representative is then sent out to further pollute and tangle our major news organizations – news organizations that should be focusing on a single issue in regards to this question – by spouting nonsense, campfire rhetoric about how gay marriage will imperil heterosexual marriage. The power of gay marriage to do so isn’t logical, practical, or reasonable, but imagining for a moment the nonsense contained a shred of truth? If the government establishes rights and privileges and grants them to one group of people while denying them to all, the government is in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and is acting illegally.
Perhaps you labor under the mistaken impression that the rights and privileges in question are trifling, compared to your personal feelings. Let’s begin with the tax-break given to married couples, and the widespread practice of insurance companies to lower car insurance premiums the moment an individual becomes a two-some. Those are Big Wrapped Gifts, and they are available to only a certain group of people. The default inheritance right – the inheritance of both property and liquid wealth: Big Wrapped Gift. The ability of a married couple to make life and death decisions for one another in lieu of a Living Will, or power of attorney: Merry Christmas, heterosexuals! Equal weight given to both partners when questions of custody and child support arise; indeed, the very idea that two people raising a child since birth deserve equal protection when issues of custody and child support become critical: just one group. But from my point of view, here is the big one. Married couples are privileged when it comes to immigration, and if you think that doesn’t matter? Ask a privileged couple with children what would happen if a Straight Prop 8 were to pass, invalidating their marriages, thus causing one of the two to be deported back to a native country. Immigration is the huge present, sent by the Federal government; so big it’s like waking up to a bow-wrapped new mini-van in the driveway. Heterosexual couples are given all of this if they marry drunk in Vegas, if they marry under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church, if they marry and divorce eight times. If the government establishes rights and privileges and grants them to one group of people while denying them to all, the government is in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and is acting illegally.
Watch those governors in the few states who have legalized gay marriage. They don’t make long-winded speeches, they don’t offer eloquent reflections on how Only Love Makes A Family. They appear to be ignoring their own legislators, and the group in the public square with pitchforks and torches. They simply sign a document that grants the same rights and privileges to all, and with that signature they cease behaving illegally. I find it very interesting to see those leaders brave enough to protect the Constitution and in doing so save the United States entire.
And for those of you who “weren’t raised that way,” or who conclude your argument against gay marriage by saying that’s just how you “feel,” you have a right to speak your mind. But let me tell you something the loose-jawed marionettes aren’t saying. If the United States continues to violate the civil rights of a vast number of its citizens, those citizens will suffer in the short-term, but you will lose in the end. If the regressives and religious conservatives push this far enough, the only option will be for the State to exit the marriage game all together, and THEN we will have achieved parity. We will all need attorneys to draw up civil unions, contracts that grant us legal rights in medical emergencies and default inheritance of wealth and property. Tax breaks will be a thing of the past. Your privilege will be a thing of the past, and where you’ll find yourself is in a church, desperately trying to make sacred what is no longer your sacred American right. But you won’t be lonely – there’ll be countless thousands of gay couples doing exactly the same thing, with the same results. So really, Focus on the Family, it’s your call.
Scott and I were having a ruthless, cut throat argument about how to save the dying newspaper industry; fortunately, we were interrupted by Scott’s cell phone ringing. By the time he hung up both of us had forgotten to argue. This was on Mother’s Day. It led me to think, again, about which parts of the much-loved newspaper can be saved. (Not by me – I have no skills – but on the Internet itself, the Internet being the author of the industry’s demise.) As I mentioned in the comments on the previous thread, I realized I CAN offer something other than a daily dress pattern and a very brief horoscope: an advice column! Or at least I can one time! So here you go, Blog Babies. Please send your question to askhaven(at)me(dot)com and I’ll try to answer it. Ha! Here’s a funny thing: I asked Scott if he thought it would be fun to answer them via webcam, and he said Whee! And then I realized, oh. That’s so not newspapery. Okay, get to asking!
As you may have heard, I recently shared a stage with Augusten Burroughs as he passed through Durham on a book tour, and a surprising number of commenters from this very blog showed up. They flew and drove from various distant parts of the colonies, and what do you know: people you’ve never laid eyes upon in your life are precisely as good as you think they are, if not better. Funny you can find anywhere – you can find funny in any Morality Free Zone. Earnest is also easy, because as long as you behave earnestly you can toss honesty out the window. (If you think I’m wrong, corner an Earnest Type and really push against their convictions. In response you won’t get the results of deep soul-searching, believe me. You’ll get a wide-eyed, “But you know I mean well, I always try to do the right thing,” and then the conversation will be OVER.) All the human characteristics that can be manufactured: sweetness, patience, solicitude, tattoos, hair, and attention span – these are not Of Which I Speak. Goodness is singular. Consider how many friends or acquaintances you’ve known who have been the sole good person in a family, or in the building where they work, or in their church. The majority of the Good don’t even know how far apart they stand. I’m looking at you, Shanna: if you want to know why I laughed so hard in the lobby of the Inn when you revealed how cranky you felt? Because, Hello Goodness. I’ve personally had my fill of the type who live according to the code of “What Makes Me Appear To Be A Good Person,” and I’ve come to the conclusion that if THAT’S how an individual rolls? He or she might be a liar, might be psychotic, could be murderously vicious, could be merely confused, maybe is actually good: I don’t care, and I’m not sticking around to sort it out. Life’s too short. I’ll take Sher, thanks, who is better than you can possibly imagine, and in so many different ways I do NOT deserve to know her. Show me a person like Caryl – whose generosity I won’t begin to reveal here (trust me: it’s staggering) – who, when a Stranger I didn’t care for came over and started asking questions, allowed me to rid the group of said Stranger by telling her Caryl was a prostitute I met online, and I had no idea who anyone else was. Not only allowed it, Caryl didn’t blink. Just picked up the ball and ran with it. From Lightning Bug Mollie to Kathleen and Maureen and everyone else – I won’t keep singling you all out in case you’re in the Witness Protection Program, and I’m not referring to Girl from the Ghetto, unless I AM – you are among a group of strangers you can trust. I don’t trust anyone based on surface cues, I doubt I need point that out. Name a category meant to confer immediate trustworthiness and you’re also naming the place criminals go to hide. That’s been the case for a good . . . 6,000 years or so. You’re a Christian, you say? Yeah, Judas Iscariot was an apostle. You only eat organic food from the Temple of the Free Range Fowl? Okey-doke. In Mooreland virtually everyone raised the cow, killed the cow standing face-to-face with it, did the butchering and the wrapping in brown paper, stacked the meat in the chest freezer, and no one thought twice when a father beat the crap out of his son for failing to put “sir” at the end of a very short sentence. In a world that routinely glorifies the cynical, no one gets a free pass from me, and I’m telling you: these are good people. I don’t know how they all wound up in the same place, but I’m thinking they might have little magnets hidden in their pouches. What a mystery. To those who came: I’ll never forget how many sacrifices you made to be here – it meant the world to me. Being present is the better part of friendship, and it’s compassionate and true-blue, and you can be sure I noticed. My gratitude to you is immense.
Here are some things making me unbearably cranky; unbearable to ME, I don’t want to know how other people feel about my crankiness or I’ll just get worse, thanks.
* Writing a book that includes a chapter on the figure of Jesus – in literary, historical, or religious renderings – is a terrible, terrible idea. In a lifetime of Wow, SO Stupid inclinations (and I include going all the way to the TOP of that tree, as well as taking up every dare; every event that included the phrase “upside-down”; and yes, Bethy, stopping that random stranger and forcing him to drive us to Market Square Arena because it was too far to walk), THIS takes the Stupid prize.
* I know – I do, I swear – I know that save one other Crank who comments on this very blog – I alone was horrified by the Susan Boyle video, and because it continues to be covered everywhere, in all the news sources I typically read, every day, I grow increasingly crankified. Robert, especially you, angel – I understand what you told me and I respect why you were moved by it, I do. But I’ll skip what I saw and what I said to John, after I regained the use of my jaw. Just look at the Times headline, “Unlikely Singer Becomes YouTube Sensation.” NOT “Singer Becomes Unlikely YouTube Sensation,” and if you think the New York Times doesn’t know what they’re doing when they write a headline? Sure they don’t. It’s elementary, Haven, who doesn’t know there’s a 1:1 connection, dictated by reality itself and supported by the laws of logic, stating that Talent is the sole province of 14-year-olds surgically manufactured for sexual attractiveness? Duh. And Susan Boyle broke through all that, reminded us of our better selves, did she? That would explain the article the next day, about how she must constantly fend off offers for “make-overs” and advice for self-improvement through fashion and cosmetics; our Better Selves love her so much we’ll do it for free! In the past few days, an article appeared in the Huffington Post – finally – by a crank who said he supposes we’ll have to rethink our position on ugly people having no value whatsoever. What a pain in the ass THAT will be. I’ll have to give it to Simon Cowell though – really, bravo, Mr. Machiavelli of popular culture. He currently OWNS the Lie Factory, and he’s made it profitable for himself for years, even as the industry itself nosedived and went up in flames. He’s so smart he saw someone who didn’t fit the Lie and used her to make himself look like The Hero Who Stopped Lying For Just A Minute. “Let’s take a couple minutes before she walks onstage to edit so she REALLY looks the fool, yes? Play it up from every angle, I even want the Three Stooges-like score in the background. And NO REAL BRITS in the reaction, hear me? Only the pretty people we had shipped over from the Hollywood division – they’re in the cages marked Extras and Walk-Ons – fill the front rows with them, I want their orthodontia in the money shot.” Well-played, y’all. And Susan Boyle, god bless her dear heart. I hope she means it when she says all she wants to do is sing, I really do. Because when this moment’s over, and it will be very very soon, she’ll still be able to. To her friends and neighbors. In her tiny village in Scotland.
* Another way of looking at that video is this: live television exists and perishes by seconds on a clock. Time isn’t just money, it’s everything (of course, everything is money but stick with me). The column in the newspaper, the page or portion of a page in magazines, air-time in radio and television: all are known as “real estate.” Start to finish the Boyle video is seven minutes – a lot of real estate – and the producers heavily tilted the clock toward the build-up, rather than the performance, then gave as much real estate to the reaction as to the song. Make of that what you will.
* Did I NOT confess to the cranky up front?
* If you are one of the 2,000 people who have sent e-mail I haven’t answered, it’s not because I don’t love you, it’s because I haven’t read them, either. The larger the number in my in-box the more panicked I become, a situation that is NOT assuaged by writing about Jesus, nor by my old friend, popular music. In fact, I don’t know where to begin with the e-mail problem. Does one start with the most recent, or the most egregiously late?
* Please discuss: Miss Madonna was thrown from a horse again – the second time in four years. Horses People, explain why a trained rider being thrown from a trained horse is unusual. Those familiar with the Hamptons, explain why the paparazzi scenario is highly unlikely. Everyone else, could we suggest another animal for her to ride, like something closer to the ground and more fitting to her personality?
* For the record, there are things I am not mad about: Obama, who is extraordinarily well-suited for his job. Cake. My children, who – how curious is this? – share the bizarre trait of finding my worst moods the most amusing. My friend Dean, who three days ago had an exchange with Jerry Lewis at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Mississippi, one of the most sublimely hilarious exchanges in the history of humanity. THANK YOU, Dean, thank you VERY much. Everyone who sent me the link to Barbie Turns 50 on SNL, even when I used to be happy I was never SO happy. But later? Angelina and Madonna on Weekend Update? As all who live near me can attest, I was hysterical for days and days. The real pay-off for not watching television is that your friends will winnow all the crap away and give you just the bright, shining bestness.
* Less crank-inducing than fascinating, a few days ago I saw an article about four people being sentenced to prison time for piracy, and I automatically assumed they were actual pirates. It took me a whole paragraph to understand they were guilty of trademark piracy, which is just so tired and five years ago. There are real pirates again; online file sharing is trifling and crappity by comparison. The ship’s captain from Vermont who offered himself as a hostage in exchange for his passengers and crew? Now there is a hero. He did exactly what a captain is supposed to do. We should all send him candy and free health insurance.
* The Chinese have a vast army of trained dolphins, who rose up against the Somali gangster-ships and shared the bejesus out of the pirates. They are men with AK-47s who don’t fear the wrath of U.S. Navy SEALs, they routinely terrorize other Somalis by driving their Range Rovers up to the door of the home where the young woman they plan to abduct is living, and they are quite, quite high. The whole operation is conducted by warlords who make Dick Cheney look like your kindly granddaddy, and those dolphins made them scream REVERSE! in the manner my daughter calls Pink Frilly Dress. I’m wildly enamored of this turn of events, although I do understand that China has trained fighter dolphins and we do not, and this is bound to cause rampant paranoia among a certain group of people, I know you know who I’m talking about. DOLPHINS.
Blog Babies who traveled here: thank you, thank you. You are what love can do. I have to go back to that awful, awful book – NO COMMENTS ABOUT THE BOOK, I can’t take it, even encouragement is ghastly at this point – and will post again as soon as I’m mad about enough YouTube videos. In the meantime, look at all that I gave you to work with!! Take it and run!!
As some of you may have heard, Augusten Burroughs and I are reading together (not at the same time! That would be like a language poetry slam in the early nineties, the sort of thing no one in his or her right mind would wish to revisit, DUH) in a matter of DAYS, April 9th, at some time or other. The information is somewhere, I don’t know, maybe on the Welcome Mat of this very website (http://www.havenkimmel.com/HK/Appearances.html). Here are the important things you must know ahead of time. There is good news and there is bad news. No, there is only bad news.
1. I had planned a surprise for those of you traveling long distances, which was to be in the form of Delonda. Kat was going to drive me to Indiana where we would fetch Mother, bring her here for a few days, drive her home. However, she has had to have a wretched and painful procedure enacted upon her person, and she is not allowed to go anywhere. Except maybe to the kitchen.
2. No one will be visiting my house, NO ONE under any circumstances, as it is a horrendous disaster and even if I began right this second and cleaned around the clock, no sleeping, nothing, until you begin to arrive, it would still look like a Dorothea Lange photograph. Today I returned from visiting my Mentalist, and as I approached the house I thought, “Jebus Preshus Lord, so THIS is what it what it looks like.” You know how one can be. One can live in one’s head a great deal, or in one’s barn, for instance, and simply not see the BIG PICTURE, which is graphic and unacceptable. Indeed, none of you may DRIVE PAST MY HOUSE, not that you would have cause to, but should you find yourself in this neighborhood, please detour using a different street named after a state in deep south. I’m fond of Georgia Ave., myself.
3. The reading at the Regulator Bookshop was moved from the Regulator Bookshop to the downtown branch of the public library. The event at the downtown branch of the Durham public library has now been moved to the Carolina Theater. You shall have to Google Mapquest McNally the Carolina Theater your own selves, as I cannot possibly tell you how to get there. I get lost crossing my back yard. Oh, I’ve been there many times. One of my author photos was taken right in front of it. My daughter danced in The Nutcracker there; we’ve gone to concerts (a very memorable Gillian Welch/David Rawlings show – whew); I’ve seen documentaries at the film festival held there. Not a clue how to get there or where to park. Wait! There is a parking garage right across the street!! When I told my Mentalist today I didn’t know where it was he pointed out the window and said, “It’s right there,” and I was like, “I hope you got the whole suit with those SMARTY PANTS,” and I still don’t know what he was pointing at besides the window.
4. To reiterate: I’m sorry about and for Mother Delonda. There shall be no visitations nor drive-bys of this habitation. The reading is at the Carolina Theater in Durham. All other inquiries should be directed to Sher Fick or Caryl Hayes, as they seem to know everything about pretty much everything. George Stuteville is also very knowledgeable about Durham. Indeed, his wife’s former college roommate is my current veterinarian. Yes, THAT is the size of the world.
Here is a photograph of my house, just so you’ll understand:
Bryan Block, owner (with his partner, Jefferson Keller) of the exquisite Block-Keller House in New Orleans, is a person I love with unwavering and open fervor. I can’t tell the story of how we met, because it contains my evil; I have not a shred of regret for the evil, but to publicize it would ill-behoove me. I can recount the exact moment I knew Bryan and Jefferson were not merely my kindred spirits, but Family, and that our unspoken covenant would last all of our lives. The three of us were sitting outside, in a strange, old sunken circle, reminiscent of the foundation of a long gone house. We were surrounded by the extravagant garden the two had built. It was cocktail hour; the Block-Keller dogs, Buster and Milo, were lying at our feet. The subject came up (as it always must) of A Confederacy of Dunces, and Bryan began to recite passages of it from memory. Never, ever have I heard anything so perfectly brought to Life, and with such ease and grace. Five minutes earlier I hadn’t known I could love the book more, and suddenly it was new (he made it new for me) and so painfully funny I first made a scene and then hyperventilated, but stopped short of vomiting. We all know the joy that comes from witnessing mastery – singularity of talent – and my first instinct was that I must keep these two men because they are simply wild, nearly indescribable treasures. I a little bit wanted to bite them, I’m sure you know what I mean.
Over the years our friendship has deepened so tenderly that every time I arrive in New Orleans and see them for the first time, I’m so suffused with love and happiness I have to force myself not to cry. There is Jefferson’s beautiful face, the manifestation of pure gentleness and chivalry and generosity; he is, perhaps, the most open-hearted man I’ve ever met. And Bryan, whom you’ll meet now. Lest you misunderstand, while I am describing two men – the hallmark of whose character is goodness – they are my True Tribe because they are wicked fine sinners, and we have gotten up to some misbehavior over the years, whoa lawd. I mean a suggestion is made and the shenanigans do commence without hesitation. One only finds such friends by detour and accident, and by following a line of possibilities infused with one’s own wicked fine talent for sinning. I’m not speaking of myself here, GRACIOUS. I’m pure as the driven snow, as Delonda would say. [Ed. note: Simply an egregious lie.]
Now I shall interview Bryan, and he will answer.
HAVEN: You’re so pretty.
BRYAN: I’ve heard rumor.
HAVEN: Also, you know that way you are? What’s up there, how would you describe it?
BRYAN: I’m not sure but it must be of the devil. Not that there is anything wrong with that, mind you. This might surprise you but I was a difficult child. Not so much because of the heavy dose of Jesus I suckled on. No indeed, because I love Jesus. I just never bought the goods being sold me for their intended purpose. It’s been said that one should make lemonade from the lemons of life. I have always prefered the martini with a twist.
HAVEN: You belong to an exotic species of person, one of my very favorites. You know how it feels to see an owl unexpectedly, or a fox? You are an architect, and architects have that effect on me. It’s a discipline I hold in a measure of awe. Tell me the part of you that architects, first, and then this is something I’ve always wondered. Do you consider architecture to be an esoteric field, a different way of studying metaphysics? Because of course there are people who design habitations, shelters. And there are others who know how to create or amplify emptiness. You are free to say, “Oh, Haven – I see the seizure is still talking for you.”
BRYAN: Jeff and I recently came to the realization that there are those out there who live their entire lives without architecture. There are even those who would read that sentence and not have an idea what that means. Architecture infuses our lives, both individually and collectively, the way religion or children or even pornography infuses others. Jeff and I simply cannot understand life without it. (The irony of my mediocrity makes me laugh out loud.) So I must believe there is an esoteric quality to it. How else could there be something so vast, so awe-full that surrounds and encases our lives and yet still goes completely unnoticed, or at least unobserved?
HAVEN: Because your aesthetic is constant, is it difficult to live in a world where one assy piece of ugly is followed by another, and there’s no way to avoid it?
BRYAN: Hence my perversity. How else can one face this graceless age? I thank Christ that ugly and stupid rule the day. That’s where I get my best material. I have a feeling you already knew that answer to that one, Missy!
HAVEN: You’re also a fine writer, and take the craft very seriously. I often describe writing a novel in a builder’s language: that the scaffolding is visible (a flaw), or that the blueprints may have seemed promising, but the execution was done on the cheap, maybe by the sort of people who flee the country in the middle of the night. Indeed, I once described a book I HATED as being so architecturally unsound I feared having it on my bookcase, lest it collapse and harm the other books around it. Find a question in there someplace.
BRYAN: There are, of course, the obvious references to structure and composition that architects tend to co-opt. And other bits of silliness like “building blocks” or “nuts and bolts” of story. But I think that my hunger for words and my desire to place them together is more about creating a beautiful sheltering space. I found solace in words first. There were good books and bad; ones that kept me nailed in place and ones that beautifully opened vast doors and windows.
My house groans under the weight of my collected books, many, thankfully, written by you. My carpets and shelves are littered with magazines and sheets of paper. I could not understand life without words any more than I could without architecture. Lupe’, the silly Aztec that cleans my house, might have a word or two to add on the subject. Fortunately I wouldn’t understand a word of it.
HAVEN: Will you try to repeat the gorgeous thing you said last night about conversation?
BRYAN: You know, I try to write those clever things down because I know I will never remember them tomorrow. A couple of years ago Jeff and I decided to do Mardi Gras without the benefit of any enhancing substance just so we could remember it. It was one of the worst days of my life. We’ve never bothered to try that kind of foolishness again (sobriety, not Mardi Gras). Some times the gods give us gifts that may only be enjoyed in the moment.
HAVEN: I think there are people whose energy or vivacity compels us toward our better selves. Do you agree? And for me, there are writers who do the same. There are writers I adore who make me never want to write again, and others who make me want to write immediately and better, and who (magically, I don’t get it) lend me the confidence to attempt it. Do you have authors who fall in those two categories?
BRYAN: OK, if I write the true answer your children out there will think I am only kissing your ass. And although that is not beyond my purview, both literally and figuratively, that is not (necessarily) what I am doing here. You, darling dear, are indeed one of those writers, along with Tom Robbins and Joseph Campbell. Early on in our twisted story, I vacillated between being intimidated or inspired by you. I, too, have this urge to write but how could I show you, someone whose work so enthralls me? But thanks to my years of Sunday school, I decided: hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine! And that was one of the best choices I have made. Sitting back there amongst the dog-smell reading our words, laughing, crying, cross-dressing. Who gets to do this?
HAVEN: You have an enviable collection of photographs . . . oh! I didn’t mean to be literal but right?!? Just today I described my demonic envy of the David Knox photograph printed on metal, the JESUS SAVES barn. And it’s not like I haven’t spent YEAR AFTER BLOODY YEAR working assiduously at not coveting, the cessation of the covet. I have SO failed at that. What’s the point? Yes, I remember: is there a connection for you between photography – an increasingly expansive medium, just endless new possibilities for an exchange between the initial image and the final artifact – and writing, and architecture?
BRYAN: ….and how do we begin to covet, Clarice?
You know, you keep holding up this mirror to me and I might never see the world the same again! I had not thought about it but you have hit on the Trinity of my religion, the three pegs in my stool (and get your minds out of the gutter…I do not mean THAT kind of stool…): Architecture, words, and photography. Outer, inner and transcendent.
HAVEN: You’ve gone back to graduate school at Tulane to study restoration architecture. Do you consider that going broader, or deeper?
BRYAN: I am becoming painfully aware as I get buried deeper and deeper in this new endeavor that I have no idea what I thought I was doing! But this journey is absolutely taking me deeper and deeper into the heart of my passion. Another gift! Once again, who gets to do this! I know, lots of people, that’s who. But I choose to feel vastly privileged for that is what this is. And going back into this at my advanced age is magnificent! All the other kiddies are just trying to get through so Mom and Pop will get off their backs. I get to play with my favorite toys without guilt. And believe me there are few enough things in my life that I love that I can say that about!
HAVEN: We have a shared love of this city; I think we have a similar apprehension of its qualities, regardless of whether we speak of them. But this morning I was wondering, Is it the case that I love New Orleans, or that New Orleans loves me? Because – or am I imagining it – am I not treated with almost supernatural kindness here, by EVERYONE, all the time, everywhere I go? Why does that sweetest of qualities live here?
BRYAN: I’ve told you New Orleans is a cursed place. Those of us who love her are condemned to spend our lives in her. (And although you don’t have a New Orleansaddress these days, don’t think for a minute that you have gotten away…) But she also comes with a blessing: she is so beautiful and the gifts she gives to those that love her, the Cursed, are so great that we are unaware of the spell and so believe that there is no other life or love beyond.
HAVEN: I’m especially puzzled by it because it’s a Death City, too; there is a strong Thanatos presence.
BRYAN: And so it is with the sublime.
HAVEN: Do you think it’s harder to age here?
BRYAN: Oh, Honey, look at my haggard face! I don’t even want to know about the condition of my liver! But it is Never Never Land or the Island of Misfit Toys. We might age more rapidly here than anywhere. But we never, ever grow up!
HAVEN: Let me list some things I know about you and tell me what I’ve overlooked. You’re a truly fine physical specimen of a man. No one wears eyeglasses better than you. You prefer a gin martini, but love vodka as well, say with soda. You eat leftovers for breakfast. You’re an extremely good father. You will go the distance with a costume. I am, yes, referring to the color tangerine. You are genuinely sane (eccentricities are a bonus), as is Jefferson. You live by what I consider to be one of the most sacred of human laws: hospitality. (Possibly the highest compliment I could pay you. Among the myths that carry the most weight with me is Zeus’s decree that nothing is more noble than to serve a guest.) You’re a voracious reader. You feel things so deeply that if you were slightly less courageous, all of life would threaten you. I have never known you to judge another person. I have never felt a moment of judgment toward you. You may be the only man I know who is as patently alpha-wolfish as I am. You radiate kindness and courtesy and still I would want you next to me if throats needed ripping out. There is no element of my life with which I would not trust you. Trust you.
BRYAN: Haven, my love, never in my life has anyone ever said such things about me. As a Southern boy, I was always taught to deflect such kindness with inanity. I wouldn’t dream of being so correct. You hold up a mirror and all I can say is yes. (Well, perhaps not so much about the bit about me and judgment, but we’ve already discussed that…) I love that we found each other the way we did. Sort of how magic mushrooms grow out of cow shit. If I wasn’t having so much fun being agnostic I might decide to believe in god! Dammit, woman! I love you!!
Here I must tell the story of how Bryan, architect, writer, Child of God, took this actual sari off his hall table where it has been all the years I’ve known him and proceeded to wrap it about my person in a traditional fashion following incomprehensible directions on the Internet. The fabric was nine feet long and look at what he accomplished. Bollywood is more colorful than Oz after the color comes on! Also I fainted. But that really is to be expected; my headjewels outweighed me by fifteen pounds.
Last night Scott got some sort of dinging alarm or cupcake or a ficus tree, or maybe was inappropriately tickled by a drunk uncle, something, on Facebook, and said he’d been asked to name the 15 albums that changed his life. I don’t know – is that right? The 15 that made him the peculiar and stoic and thoroughly trustworthy but blank-faced Yankee he is? I forget the question. I fear I indulged in a rant about Facebook, because we’d JUST gotten through the 25 Things About Yourself peer pressure, I mean I have THINGS TO THINK ABOUT PEOPLE. For instance, there’s currently a debate in my neighborhood about whether we should be allowed to own backyard chickens here in the middle of Durham. Sometimes there is serious chicken tension on the neighborhood listserve. The divide seems to be between people who know what chickens are, and those who have an egg fantasy. I don’t have a Facebook page, but my beloved friends Katherine and Joe, and Kat, made their lists, e-mailed them to me, and then John, Scott, and Obadiah made our lists and e-mailed them back. It was fun, on the whole, except for how Scott just STOPPED on number 16 and decided to lie with his feet up on the fireplace screen. He explained he was in the Trendelenberg position, and why such a position might be necessary. It was not. He then used a phrase like Hover Pants, and how they would be used in the event he suffered severe hypertension and was forced to remain in the Trendelenberg; precisely how the inflatable trousers would solve any of his nonexistent problems escaped me. I had FLOWN through my 25 Whatevers and he just QUIT. Obadiah’s was fabulous, and John’s was fabulous, and then of course the next day, when he felt better after letting the air out of his pants, Scott’s was divine.
But then this album thing happened and I was like one of those women you sometimes see on COPS, the kind who have been alcoholics so long they’re completely blacked-out drunk but still shouting and fighting and trying to rip off their clothing (no, I don’t know why) even as they’re being moved by a SWAT team into a rubber room. I was like ULSIDNOWI FACEBOOK! And then IS VDJSOI FACEBOOK NO! I noticed Scott was looking at me fearfully. I tried to back out of the crazy by explaining I was just too old for such nonsense – I mean PLEASE, it was designed for COLLEGE STUDENTS – but then Scott told me how he loves keeping up with his friends, and how I’m judging 472 billion people older than I who are happily on the site poking each other and posting photographs of themselves vomiting. I think my Baby Jane moment occurred because I’d just read an article about the average updates made to individual pages, and they were so tedious and banal I thought I’d been placed in some sort of hanging cage with a group of five-year-olds. I’d also seen the twenty most common poses men use to advertise themselves, and that had caused me to lose faith in not just the future, but in time and space.
To be honest, while our culture has always been and shall ever be in a state of disintegration (each generation says so), I have never been more afraid of our descent into narcissism and triviality than I am now. Ah, JIMBO FLOPPER is standing in line at the Piggly Wiggly! C MY CLEAVAGE wishes she had a cupcake. L MORAL BLACKHOLE is currently listening to Taylor Swift REAL IRONICY. Okay, I know there’s more to it than that – I KNOW, DON’T POINT IT OUT, SCOTT – but I’m trying to write a book that’s so far beyond my means I spend at least 14 hours of every day crying (Jesus is the issue), and there have been dramatic upheavals in my life, and I still long for real conversation with real people. I have friends and blog babies who need an ear or some thoroughly specious advice. There remain 47 books on Quaker history I haven’t gotten through; my heart is broken; last night the power went out in my barn and I was in complete blackness surrounded by taxidermy. Our nation is on the verge of an actual Depression. Last night I told Obadiah that a family we love and are close to have a one-year contract on employment, so one year to find a job. I asked him if he would mind if the whole family moved in with us if necessary, all four of them. He immediately said yes, we’d find a way. We’d divide the dining room and make a bedroom and . . . that was as far as we got. THE POINT IS, oh god, Facebook and Twitter and lifecasting and cell-phone self-portraits, how how how can we focus with such intensity on our own detritus and WHY?
But then I thought: OH! Maybe my blog babies would like to play the 25 Things Whatever game, or the 15 Albums, and naturally I would find it interesting, because it’s you and not some white college boy throwing pretend gang signs while doing Jaeger shots. Of course, you are free to drink shots if you wish, but your typing will be impaired and the chances of my mocking your Zeppelin Trousers will increase. So have at it!
Two events intersected in one day, as sometimes occurs when we’re not expecting anything at all to happen. The first involved a news item. I don’t watch television news (as Kat will attest, I have not yet figured out how to turn our new television on – it arrived as a gift from American Express because I had spent such an astonishing amount of money on other things – and when the baby wants to watch a video I stand holding one of three remotes, by which I mean I just stand there); tv news would, without a doubt, do me unspeakable harm. I greatly dislike the way visual media sneaks up and imprints itself on your inner eye with such immediacy and then it can’t be unseen. I read The Times online, I look at all sorts of news blogs, sometimes CNN, but even then I can go two or three days without checking the headlines. Perhaps this is irresponsible, but I’ve noticed – maybe you have, too – that the news is seldom good. Oh, it is REALLY not good much of the time. Also Scott tells me everything I need to know so I am able to justify my ignorance.
A few days ago I decided to check in with the world. In truth, I’m always on the lookout for photographs of Obama in the Oval Office, or the words “President Barack Obama.” Just seeing them can make me happy all day. And I ended up reading an article about how the grandfather of the slain toddler, Caylee Anthony, was in the hospital under a suicide watch following the release of details of his granddaughter’s crime scene. I won’t repeat what he learned, but it was enough. It was enough to make a grandfather no longer wish to breathe, particularly if – as all the evidence seems to suggest – his beloved grandbaby was killed by his own daughter. As Joni Mitchell said, maybe it’s the time of year or maybe it’s the time of man, but there were at least five more articles about the brutal abuse and murder of children, all on that one day. I’m not counting the reports of children under the age of ten killing their parents with shotguns, none of the horrendous chaos we have brought upon ourselves.
Casey Anthony is innocent until proven guilty, and the evidence against her is so far circumstantial. (However, as David Rudolf points out, all evidence in every trial is circumstantial, and these circumstances are damning. Otherwise we would have no need of grand juries.) She was nineteen when her daughter was born; I was nineteen when my daughter was born. All similarities, and I mean ALL, end there. You might think I mean because I never harmed my child – I never raised my voice to her – but more than that I now have a 24-year-old woman, a daily presence in my life, who is the embodiment of all that is good and compassionate and funny and joyful and wise. We have each other. Casey Anthony didn’t just allegedly commit a crime so foul it boggles the imagination. She isn’t merely evil. She’s so bloody stupid she doesn’t realize she murdered the future; she destroyed the person who might have ended up the dearest friend and companion she would ever have.
That night, the night I read about a suicidal grandfather, I had my own very minor trauma. Someone who reads the blog had sent me a, shall we say, critical e-mail. It contained two lines in particular that made me believe I am not, in fact, a good enough person to be writing a public blog and perhaps should not write at all. Naturally, my response to thinking I shouldn’t write a public blog was to write a public blog post apologizing to my critic, while also attempting to explain myself. Two people I hold in very high esteem read the post and said I HAD to remove her name, which honestly confused me. She lobbed an accusation at me concerning the blog, I apologized to her in the blog – why wouldn’t I use her name? She used it in her e-mail. For some reason I couldn’t make sense of this, and our conversation became more and more contentious. I asked if I could use her first name. NO. How was she to know I was addressing her?!? One of my two Esteems said that it didn’t matter that I apologized; it didn’t matter that I tried to address her humbly – by citing her charge against me AT ALL I made her look like a fool, and by making her look like a fool I became a Michael Moore-sort of bully. By this point the conversation had gone on an hour, and in all that time my twelve-year-old son, Obadiah, had been sitting right there listening. John finally turned to him and said, “O., do you have any thoughts on the matter?” Now this was my quiet baby, a late talker, someone who keeps to himself, is a boy. He and I have always been very, very close – by instinct I’ve been more protective of him than I ever was of Kat. I thought he might be embarrassed to be asked his thoughts on a tricky ethical question, but instead – and even now I can barely type the words – he just rose up in spirit, he very quietly began to speak in the most orderly, loving way, and every sentence was an unmitigated defense of me: as a person, as a mother, and as a writer. I’ll skip to the last thing he said. “Anyone who could accuse you of being shallow? You? She must be the shallowest person on earth.” I felt a vise close around my chest. I had been arguing a silly point moments before, and with just a few sentences from my son tears began pouring down my face. I couldn’t speak at all. I looked at him and mouthed the words, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Obadiah, for being The Good Son of all the old stories; and thank you, God, for entrusting him to me. Thank you, Ben, for always being the best possible father to him. Thank you, Kat, for being nearly a second mother to him, and John, for loving him unconditionally.
As if that weren’t enough, this morning while John took O. to school, Baby Gus got into bed with me. He put his head on my pillow and let me kiss the side of his head until he said his ear tickled. He asked me, where did I get my face? Where did I get my head? “Gussy’s head is tinety,” he told me. Where did my big hands come from? Could he look at that blacelet again? Who make the blacelet? I told him my friend Carrie made it. He said, “What her make it of?” I told him the beads are glass. He said, “What flavor is dose beads?” I didn’t know. What flavor are my lips, he wondered? Would I like to feel the tag on his blanket, called Taggy? What flavor is Taggy?
I wouldn’t expect you to guess, but this post is really about my mother. There are the obvious reasons: because without her I’d have no idea what it meant to be a mother at all, and because she has always understood and loved my children. She told me a secret about Obadiah when he was four months old that changed the way I raised him – something she saw just by looking at him – and I don’t care how the knowledge reached her, it saved his life. Today I want to thank her because never, not once, did she betray me, even when I was a nightmare teenager who should have been thrown in a cage with jackals. I want to thank her because I sent her a photograph of my barn study, the Natural History Museum, and she not only saw the beauty in it, she said it took her back to the library of her cousin, Jay Warren, the very library I visited at the age of six and became obsessed with the preservation of animals. Most of all, she alone understood that at her darkest hour – diagnosed with cancer and facing the most violent surgery I’ve ever heard described – I could not be there, and she knows why. Even if it were legal for me to drive the 650 miles to Indiana after having a grand mal seizure, the thought of it fills me with a terror so black and deep I feel faint. I couldn’t tell her this when she was in the hospital; I could barely admit it to myself. As Christmas approached and the weather in the Midwest became treacherous I awoke every morning and thought, “I’ll just leave, I’ll just go,” and my heart would race so hard I’d see stars. I knew if I had a seizure while driving I would not only kill myself, I would undoubtedly kill other innocent people. And then Gus developed scarlet fever, and she alone understood that even though she is the home of my soul and my moral compass, I would always choose to stay with him. She never expected me to leave my sick family, as gravely ill as she herself was. Whatever is in her – DNA, magic, I don’t care what you call it – she is the reason I have been given this extraordinary blessing. Caylee Anthony’s mother didn’t have the basic animal sense not to destroy her own best hope; my mother doesn’t even hold a grudge. Imagine that.