Thursday, July 24, 2008

Identification

I’m going to the DMV to get a New York drivers license this week, so if anyone has any salient advice in that regard, other than Bring a Book or Just Kill Yourself Right Now, please pass it on.

I’ve lived in the city for going on twelve years now, but I’ve managed to hold on to my Virginia drivers license this whole time, just because it seemed easier. A few months ago, the Virginia DMV sent me a letter telling me I was about to expire (or rather they sent it to my parents, who sent it to me), but I tossed it aside in the “To be taken are of later, perhaps in the next century” pile. I could blame this on being VERY BUSY AND OVERWHELMED from being postpartum-y and having a young infant in the house, but I’m not even going to bother, because we all know that I would have done the exact same thing even if I were single, childless, and jobless. By the time it finally occurred to me to take care of the renewal, it was too late to simply renew by mail or online; I would have had to go home to Virginia and show up at the DMV with some proof of residence, which, not being a resident, I don’t really have, unless you count the sample packets of formula that Similac sent to me at my parents’ address soon after I found out that I was pregnant. How do those marketers know these things anyway? ESP?

In any case, rather than go through that brouhaha, I decided it would be best to just go ahead and get the New York license. So I went online and figured out that I would need to bring my Social Security card and my passport. I knew the Social Security card would present no problem, because up to this point in my life, my father has been in charge of that. So all I had to do was ask him to send it to me and then not lose it. (The first part was easy, and, against all odds, I’m still doing OK on the second part.) When I read “passport,” though, I got a distinctly bad prickle in the back of my mind. I slunk off to find it, and, sure enough, it had been expired for a few months. I called the DMV, and after a 15-minute phone tree adventure, I got someone on the phone and asked her if an expired passport counted as a passport. She gave me an outraged NO, as though she could not believe that there was anyone in the world dumb enough to ask such a question.

Really, though, I don’t think it’s a particularly stupid question. I have never properly understood the concept of an expired piece of identification. Just because your ID is expired does not mean that you are not you anymore. I mean, it still identifies you, doesn’t it? I had to debate this point at some length once a few years ago when I was back in Virginia for a few weeks and went to meet my college friend L. in “downtown” Bethesda, Maryland for dinner and a drink. We sat down at the restaurant bar, and I ordered a glass of wine, got carded, and handed over my license. The bartender looked at it and started shaking his head. “Nope,” he said, “sorry. It’s expired.”

I looked at my license disbelievingly and found that, sure enough, it had been expired for several weeks. Now, that was a time when my husband and I were going out a lot, to lots of shows at lots of bars and venues and holes in the wall, many of which required ID at the door. And in all those weeks, no one, not a single big bouncer or scrawny hand-stamper or canny promoter, had noticed that my license had expired – or if they did notice, they didn’t care enough to even mention it to me. But once I stepped into the great metropolis of Bethesda, Maryland, I was busted. This fact alone infuriated me, but what infuriated me even more was that the bartender categorically refused to serve me, as did the bartenders at a few other places that we tried to go to after we had our (wineless) dinner. “Nope,” they all said, “sorry. Your license is expired.” They wouldn’t even let me inside. This drove me INSANE. Because you do not all of a sudden change birthdates on the day your license expires. And I had a wallet full of other things – bank card, personal phone card (remember those?), credit cards, undergrad picture ID, grad school picture ID – that all showed that I was me and not some maniacally clever but un-detail-oriented delinquent who buys expired IDs from DMV employees who need a little extra cash on the side and retrofits them with different pictures WITHOUT BOTHERING TO CHANGE THE EXPIRATION DATE.

Plus, I really hate that “I’m just doing my job, ma’am” attitude that people sometimes give you when they are doing really ridiculous things. (Like ALL the stoic customer service people at Ikea who DID NOT want to mail me the high chair safety belt that was missing from the high chair I bought, and who all acted like it was perfectly reasonable to force me to make a two-hour round trip back to Ikea or pay $80 to get a whole new high chair delivered when IT WASN’T MY FAULT THAT THE DAMN THING WAS MISSING IN THE FIRST PLACE. They were totally like, “That’s just company policy, ma’am.” Ma’am, my ass. I badgered them until they got tired of me, and I got the thing in the mail yesterday. Ha.) I mean, I guess I have some sympathy. One of the bartenders explained to me that, were I an undercover cop, or were a cop to come into the bar and check everyone’s IDs, he – not the bar – would get fined. But GOOD GOD. Does the Bethesda police force really have nothing better to do than to go around enforcing fines on bartenders for serving people who are VERY CLEARLY over 21? And if that is the case, shouldn’t they just save money by downsizing the police department? I mean, in New York, even at the height of Giuliani Time, you would never…And so on and so forth. I really worked myself into a lather that evening, but I made no headway and went home dry, feeling like a teenager who couldn’t get into Twilo.

So I knew that, when the DMV lady made the completely absurd claim that an expired passport is not a passport, resistance was futile. I sent the Department of Homeland Security $135, gah, and got a new, unexpired passport with horrendously tacky jingoistic drawings (An American spacecraft and the moon! Brokeback cowboys on the range! Lots and lots of eagles and grain and eagles and grain!) all over it. The drawings are all tinted in red, white, and blue, with some strategic touches of yellow for the grain and the eagles’ beaks. In addition, there are some tepid quotes by famously articulate Americans like…Dwight D. Eisenhower? There are also some nicer quotes that are painfully, heart-wrenchingly ironic, like a Mohawk thing about hoping that the animals will always be here or a Martin Luther King, Jr. thing about hoping that one day America lives up to its promise or a George Washington thing about America setting the standard for the rest of the world. There are also bits of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address and the Star-Spangled Banner for good measure. The real pièce de résistance, though, is the scary little gold icon on the front cover. It has a distinctly Big Brother look to it, as though it might be a robotic eye or ear, and indeed, the back page of the passport reads, “This document contains sensitive electronics.” I showed it to my friend M, who still has the old, sane passport, and she held it by the corners gingerly and spoke nervously into the icon. “I like George Bush," she said. "Eagles are great. The turkey was bad idea.” My husband, less fanciful, just said, “This thing is garbage.”

Weeks ago, when I told my friend Ms. N the Latin teacher that both my passport and my license had expired, she clapped her hands in delight. “Who are you?” She exclaimed. “You’re nobody! A woman of mystery!” Mysteries, however, can only be solved. So, having received my new garbage passport, I am now properly identified by the federal government and am qualified to proceed forthwith to the state government to become properly identified by them. And then, thankfully, I will be me again. Some times more than others, I feel as though my life is proceeding in circles, but I cannot help but to keep going around.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Memory

Sometimes, when we are watching the baby be his strange baby self, my husband says to me, “I can’t believe that he’s not going to remember any of this.” And it’s true. The baby is not going to remember any of this. He will not remember how much fun he had blowing raspberries on my collarbone; he will not remember that he cried all evening the first time we left him with a babysitter. He will not remember the hours and hours and hours that we have spent together, just the two of us, sitting on the living room floor or walking around the house or eating breakfast or cuddling in bed, nursing until we both drift off to sleep. He will remember none of these long, rapturous baby days. Even if he does have a fleeting memory, a real one that doesn’t come from pictures or stories, it will only illuminate one moment out of thousands.

Though it saddens me immeasurably to think that the baby will not remember these times that, for me, have been filled with transfiguring emotion, I also see that, really, there’s no reason for him to remember. These days, and the memories of them, do not really belong to the baby. They belong to us – to me and my husband. Because the baby is not actually himself yet; he is not the person who he is going to become, the person who will one day say, “I remember.” He cannot have memories yet because he is not yet an independent life – he is a part of us. It is our own lives that we are remembering when we say, “Remember how tiny he used to be? Remember how he used to nap crosswise on the couch and his feet didn’t even reach the edge? Remember how he didn’t know how to touch his toys?” It is our own stories we are telling when we talk about how the baby wouldn’t sleep on his fourth night in the world or how he began, at six and a half months, to reach his arms up for hugs. It is the story of me and my husband and how we became a family. And that is why these memories are important, and that is why, every day, I am remembering as hard as I possibly can.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Infant Physicality of Naomi Klein, or I'm Crazy

This evening found me feeling hollow-eyed and melancholy for two different reasons.

First, I started reading Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. This is a book that you probably ought to read if you want to be a smarter, better person. If you want to be a happier person, though, you probably oughtn't read it, despite the fact that one would like to believe, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that ignorance breeds misery while enlightenment breeds happiness. I, personally, did not read it for awhile (it came out a year or so ago), preferring to pretend I had read it when really I had only read the excerpt in Harper's. The thing is, the excerpt in Harper's made me cry (it was mostly Klein's description of this that did it). If just a few piddling pages did that, I thought, it would probably be bad for my not-famous-for-being-stable emotional health to read a whole entire book filled with similar material. It was finally thrust upon me, though, by the convergence of there being nothing left in the house for me to read and my husband happening to bring it home from a recent bookstore haul.

So I started it on the train this morning and was coasting through the introduction happily, filled with pleasantly righteous anger at Milton Friedman. Then I got to the first chapter, which is about torture. A Canadian psychiatrist received U.S. government funding to study the effects of various horrendous things like sensory deprivation, extreme electroshock treatment, extreme chemical shock therapy, etc. on hordes of his patients to see how much it would take to totally dismantle their personalities. This, of course, is really really really bad, and makes for horrifying reading. I was OK, though, until I got to the part when one of the patient's sisters described to her what she was like after the treatment: "You would urinate on the living-room floor and suck your thumb and talk baby talk and you would demand the bottle of my baby."

Abruptly, my mind reeled. I snapped the book shut, and I almost stopped breathing. I saw my own eyes wide with shock in the black train window, my shoulders tense, my hands gripping the book. I thought I might vomit, then I thought I might cry.

This was actually the second time in the past few weeks that baby imagery in a book crawled under my skin. I was reading a psuedo-noir by Benjamin Black/John Banville (Christine Falls, which maybe I'll tell you about some other time, but meanwhile here's the short version: shit) in which (SPOILER ALERT!) a baby dies. It was nighttime when I read the scene, and I was home alone with the sleeping baby, and my husband wasn't answering his phone, and I thought I would die of horrible, sinking, airless terror and grief. Nearly shaking with fear, I sat up late that night, unable to sleep until my husband came home.

That episode, of course, was entirely comprehensible. I read of a dead baby; I feared the death of my own baby; I flipped. Less clear, though, is why I had the identical reaction this morning on the train when I read of adults being tortured back into babyhood (as Klein puts it, the individual equivalent of being bombed back into the stone age). It could have been, I suppose, that I am so familiar with the baby state now that the very idea of an adult reverting to that state just sort of grossed me out. But it felt bigger than that, and deeper. It was more, I think, the imagistic, conceptual linking of adult evil and the infant body. In both that scene in Christine Falls and that moment in The Shock Doctrine, the effects of all the evil of the world are suddenly represented in the vividly evoked physicality of an infant, a physicality that, at this moment, I know as well as I know my own. It was an unwelcome association, and it sat in the pit of my stomach for hours.

The second problem I was having was (as always) my writing. Having burst onto the stage of my own mind as a writer in April, I am constantly now worried that maybe I was just faking it. As I have already complained about to you, the past few days have found me essentially unwilling to write a word, dragging myself to the computer and reluctantly posting what I myself judge to be boring meaningless trifles. (Ha! Get it? Let's do it again. Trifles. That was a different one! Whoo!) Staring at the computer screen today, I thought, Who am I kidding? And then, Well, that's the end of this whole blog thing. I guess a couple of months was a good run. And then, Don't be such a defeatist depressive idiot! And then, But that's who I am. That and a bad writer and a fraud. And so on.

So I was, as I said, distinctly hollow-eyed and moody by this evening, when I set out on a walk to the bakery with the baby, the dog, and my husband. I wanted to tell my husband what I was feeling, but I couldn't quite shape it into words.

Finally, after some consideration, I started, "Mmmph."
"Yes?"
"I don't feel so good."
"What's wrong?"
"I don't know." He waited patiently. "My heart feels empty inside."
"Really? Why?"
"Well," I stared into the middle distance tragically, "I think it's my writing. And that thing I read this morning."
"Oh, Monkey," he sighed, "don't worry. It's just because YOU'RE CRAZY."
And there wasn't much more to be said after that.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Clean Living and High Thinking

Yesterday, I wrote that I went to Starbucks and had lemonade and lemon pound cake. Turns out this was not the really the case; I had purchased a slice of lemon pound cake but not eaten it, instead just forgetting it in my tote bag. When I found it this morning, I was so happy that I almost cried, and I consumed it immediately with a pink lady apple as my second breakfast, my first having been rice and leftover Korean pancake.

Whenever my dad gets a good parking space or encounters any other such piece of good luck, he always says, "It's a reward for clean living and high thinking," then chuckles delightedly at his own joke. Clean living and high thinking, I thought this morning when the pound cake turned up like a present, clean living and high thinking.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thursday

Into my third week back at home with the baby, it is shocking how the days slide by. We wake up, we eat, we play, we nurse, we nap. The baby rolls onto his tummy on the quilt on the living room floor and pedals himself around in circles. He tells me when he needs to potty, but sometimes I don’t pay attention, which results in puddles on the quilt. He sits in his new high chair and bangs on it with a rice spoon. He stands in his new pink Exersaucer and gnaws on the gender-specific toys affixed to it (a vase of flowers! a straw bonnet! a purse!). At mealtimes, he is the opposite of dexterous, smushing food into his mouth, chewing it gravely, finally dropping most of it on the floor or into his lap.

As for me, I seem to have slid into some sort of stasis. I do a lot of laundry and very little cleaning and a medium amount of cooking – just enough to keep up with the horrifying piles of greens that we keep getting from the farm share. I drink nursing tea, eat rice with edamame and Dr. Praeger’s frozen spinach pancakes on top, and snack on sweet potatoes, pink lady apples, and dark chocolate. Because my parents keep me well-stocked with Starbucks cards, the baby and I go to Starbucks every day, and I have lemonade and lemon pound cake (500 calories per slice). When the baby naps, I watch television dreamily, even really bad shows like the one on VH1 where Brett Michaels tongue-kisses everyone except the women of color, who are kicked off in like two minutes flat. I have sudden fits of severe boredom, but I do not want to call my friends because maybe they are busy and don’t want to talk to a bored me. Instead, I call my mother and get unjustly annoyed at her if she actually wants to talk for awhile, and I hurry her off the phone in a put-upon manner as though she were the one who called me just to pass the time. Sometimes, even when I am holding him, I forget to talk to the baby for what feels like long, long periods of time, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

Also, I don’t write. I told my husband on Tuesday that I didn’t really feel like writing anymore. I was hoping, guiltily, for a little validation, like, “Oh, that’s OK, Pokey, sometimes it’s OK to not do things.” Instead, he took it very seriously. If he wore glasses, he would have taken them off as he looked at me thoughtfully.

“How long has it been?”
“Oh, I don’t know. A week? Since the Emily Gould post?”
“Well, that was a long one, I guess. You worked on it a long time. OK, I’m giving you a deadline. Thursday.”

Then, late that night, my friend M emailed me: “You haven’t posted in a few days. Are you ok?” It felt strange that two whole people thought it was not such a good thing that I wasn’t writing. It was a pleasantly panicky feeling, so I sat down and posted a little tiny piece, a trifle, not anything I felt particularly proud of. Ha, I thought, I beat my deadline. “Hey,” said my husband, “You beat your deadline!”

But today, Thursday, my deadline day, I feel as though I cheated, because that post was so very little, plus it ended on a pretty cheap note. (Here, look at it again. See? Cheap.) I’d better write something longer, I thought, something really thoughtful or really angsty or at least really funny. So, after going to a meeting with the principal of a small school in Washington Heights to beg for part-time work next year and then going to Starbucks for lemonade and lemon pound cake (500 calories per slice) and then putting the baby down for his nap and then watching “The Daily Show” and then watching “The Dog Whisperer” and then reading a chapter in the Motley Crue autobiography (no, seriously, this is an amazing book, don’t sneer until you’ve read it, it is a RIOT and super well-written, though I think Neil Strauss has more to do with that than Motley Crue) and then doing some laundry and then eating some dark chocolate and then drinking a cup of nursing tea, I sat down to write.

And these are the only things that I have to tell you. The days are sliding by, and I can only watch them go.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Baby Days

The baby, now six months old, has discovered hugging. When I pick him up, he wraps his arms tightly around my shoulders, grasping at me with his little big hands. He does this for minutes on end, sometimes cooing and squawking happily to himself – or to me? It is a little puzzling, because I can’t tell if he knows he’s hugging me or even knows what hugging means. Usually, too, the hug escalates after awhile into violence, the baby pulling my hair and clawing at my face with an expression of ecstatic adoration. But, until that moment, it’s wonderfully soothing to rest against the baby’s little body as he rests against me, breathing in the scent of his thin, soft hair, hoping that he doesn’t pull away quite yet.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Another Posting Altogether

Faithful reader, you may remember that yesterday's post was entitled "Emily Gould and My Life, Because Everything is Really About My Life." That title comes from something that my husband always says to me when we fight. We will be in the rock-bottom depths of an argument, and I will shriek/sob something along the lines of "Well, it makes me feel XYZ." And my husband will say, "Right, because everything is really about your feelings." And there is just this twist to his voice when he says your feelings that is so inexpressibly infuriating and hurtful to me that, that, that, rrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAARRR!

It's something that really haunts me long after any given fight is over, because HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO RESPOND TO THAT? Because, yes, everything IS really about my feelings, sort of, right? I mean, at least for me it is! Especially if we're having a fight, because the very definition of a fight is two people advocating for their respective feelings about an issue! Right? Right! So yeah, screw it, it is really about my feelings! What's so bad about that? But, no matter how many times I reach this conclusion under non-fight circumstances, when we're back in the middle of a fight and my husband says "Right, because everything is really about your feelings," I always find myself sobbing desperately, "NOOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOOO! It's not about my fee-hee-hee-hee-lings! Don't say-hay-hay that anymore! It's not about my fee-hee-hee-hee-lings!"

I had no plans to write about this, but when I told my husband yesterday that I got the title for that post from that thing that he says to me, he laughed and hugged me and said, "Well, that's got to be another posting altogether!" And I guess he's right.