Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Day Off

Normally, I work Mondays through Wednesdays, but not this week; there's no school today or tomorrow because of Rosh Hashanah. So I am home, and today, I'm home alone, because I sent the baby to daycare. The prospect of being at home by myself all day definitely feels exciting and a little luxurious, but mostly I am slightly panic-stricken. I am dead-set against wasting the day, and have set out a certain number of tasks for myself. To wit:
  1. Vacuum.
  2. Clean stovetop.
  3. Throw out old carseat and clean toxic dust from new one.
  4. Mop.
  5. Complete all feedback for this week for online class I am TA'ing.

Of all these tasks, it is the fifth that is the most daunting, because, unlike vacuuming, it cannot be completed in a sudden, random burst of energy. Here's how feedback works. I have thirteen students. Every week, they have an online "discussion" about the week's readings. I then have to do the following for each student:

  1. Tally his/her discussion contributions for the week. Be sure at least one was posted by last Wednesday, and the remainder by Sunday.
  2. Read his/her discussion contributions for the week. Give grade out of ten points. Remember to take points off for late postings.
  3. Compose feedback email that comments on his/her discussion work and explains his/her grade, highlighting strengths and weaknesses, noting areas of particular interest or futher exploration.

Needless to say, this takes years. Usually, I finish it over the course of three or four days, to the tune of one to three hours a day. Today, however, my intention is to finish ALL of it in ONE FELL SWOOP. It is a task that is beyond intimidating, because I am not really one to sit still and work at something for hours on end, and my powers of putting off tedious tasks (and then justifying the putting-off) are formidable. After my husband and the baby left this morning, I stood in the kitchen, terror rising in my gut, trying to decide what to do. Curling up with the Norman Mailer letters in this week's The New Yorker seemed really appealing, as did watching junky housewife TV, but I knew that that would be WRONG, but I could not bring myself to do what would be RIGHT, i.e. sitting down and starting the damn feedback. Finally, I decided that the best thing to do would be to feed myself. If I had a little plate of food, I reasoned, I could trick myself into bringing it over to my desk, and it would serve as just enough distraction to keep me from caving under the all-consuming weight of the feedback task.

So, despite the fact that I had already eaten breakfast, I fixed myself a bowl of rice with greens and pinto beans. (If you think 9AM is the wrong time to eat rice and beans, you have never truly lived.) And the plan worked. Bowl in hand, I managed to get myself over to my computer, and I even started working. The only problem is, I've been working on the wrong thing. I've been working on this.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Brother 2

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking: "Oh, that brother story was intriguing and poignant! I wonder what ever happened with that - did he call her back?"

And the answer is yes. Yes, my brother called me back that very evening, and I spoke with him for the first time in twelve years - for the first time since I was in high school. It was a conversation that I have been rehearsing for all of my meager adult life, but none of the things for which I rehearsed were actually said. There were no ebullient greetings or angry recriminations or labored explanations. My brother told me where he lives (back on the East coast) and what he does (computers), and he said he's 51, and he said a friend of his has a baby that's really cute but probably not as cute as mine, and he said he played Frisbee-golf the day before, and have I never heard of Frisbee-golf? He seemed to not understand that he had been lost to me, utterly lost for twelve whole years, and that the loss was a deeper, more painful grief than I have ever, ever been able to admit to anyone. He seemed to think that there was nothing important to say. After about twenty minutes, we hung up, and I came away feeling dazed and parched, as though I had just tried to drink from a mirage. Our conversation had been woefully incomplete, almost less satisfying than no conversation at all.

I would be happy to be wrong about this, but I am almost sure that if I want to talk to him more, if I want to try again to have that conversation, I will have to be the one to call him. I don't mean to be maudlin or melodramatic, but in this moment, I truly do not believe that my older brother will ever call me again for as long as we live.


Please excuse this interruption. You may, intrepid reader, have noticed that there have been no photos with my entries for awhile. This has not been my fault, but rather the joint faults of my bad computer and bad camera. I have finally managed to get the problem(s) fixed, sort of kind of. So I added some pictures here. Go look at them. Thank you for your attention.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I wrote awhile ago about my penchant for not bathing the baby particularly often. The thing that I didn't say is that this attitude is not isolated laziness, but rather part of my overall program. That is to say, I also have a penchant for not bathing myself particularly often. This is a really horrifying thing to admit on the vast stage of the internets, because I know that people - or at least people in both of the countries from which I draw my immediate heritage - are really hung up on bathing every day. But it is the absolute truth. I bathe, at best, every other day, and sometimes stretch it out much longer, to the tune of maybe twice a week. With the baby in the picture, I have not been unknown to go an entire week unbathed. I know you think this is gross, and I am sorry, but it is true.

One problem with bathing is that it takes up such immense amounts of time. Just brushing my teeth (which I do every day) and washing my face (which I do most days) feel like years and years of lost time to me, so only think how screamingly tedious a task showering presents. Even if the shower itself is on the short side, which it seldom is for me, the afters - creams, lotions, hair stuff, etc. - are interminable. Viewed from the bottom of the hill, the climb seems absolutely insurmountable. (If this is how I feel about showering, you can imagine how bad WRITING PAPERS was for me. And I was an ENGLISH MAJOR. Oh my GOD.) Faced with the prospect of such a hard slog, I usually give up. It is so much more appealing, at night, to curl up and read or watch TV; it is so much more appealing, in the morning, to nestle in bed a bit longer with a book or, alternately, to get dressed and run out of the house to start the day.

Also, one is seldom actually dirty. I know it is the fashion to think of oneself as being dirty after a day of not showering, but that simply isn't the case. It is true that one is not squeaky clean, but why in heaven's name must one be squeaky clean? One is not a Tupperware. I wash my hands when I ought and rinse my feet in the tub when I've been walking in sandals and I do shower enough to keep myself clean by any measure except the one that you are using, you crazy damn Americans. Do you not know that people normally smell like people, not like Jergen's Cherry Almond or Victoria's Secret Honeysuckle Rose or even Bliss Spa Lemon Sage? What is WRONG with you?

I know that one hidden reason that many people shower every day is their belief they must wet and re-style their hair every day in order for it to continue to look as it should. I think that in some cases this is really true - a small number of people have just the sort of hair or just the sort of haircut that requires constant attention to prevent it from looking truly bad. However, in many cases, this is not the situation. Often, people are simply addicted to re-styling their hair every day, either out of pure superstition or out of a desire to make their hair look a way that it isn't built to look. To which I say GIVE IT UP. You are a PERSON, not a Vidal Sassoon model or a "reality" television character. Toss some appropriately formulated cream and/or powder through that mop, put on your jacket, and LET'S GO ALREADY. TIME'S A-WASTIN'. (If you don't have any appropriately formulated cream and/or powder, or if you have so many that it is the same as having none, then we need to talk. You are an adult, old enough to purchase and use a small number of high-quality products. Stop trolling the aisles of Rite-Aid. Go to Bigelow's or similar, talk to the shopgirls, and get one to three things that work just as they should. And pay good money for them, too. It's absolutely worth it - just think how much time you will save in showering.)

I realize that this is probably the most uncomfortable posting I have ever written. These days, one is used to thinking that nothing is taboo anymore, considering what is shown on even basic cable channels and what the average person sees fit to reveal on his or her Facebook page. But, tame as it may seem, the admission that I do not bathe myself every day feels truly taboo, more than anything else I could possibly think to write. "Are you really posting that?" My husband asked with some alarm. And dammit, I am.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Toxic Dust Invasion Vacation

Today, the baby and I are in exile from our apartment. Last night, at around eight o'clock, I became uncomfortably aware of a horrendous chemical smell emanating from the apartment below us, which is under construction. Peeking out the door, I saw that the stairs and the hall were covered in a fine white dust. Further investigation revealed that a corner of our bedroom was covered in the same dust, and, presently, I realized that the inside of my mouth felt coated with something and my head was beginning to hurt. Thrown into a sudden panic, I hurriedly packed my monogrammed Vera Bradley overnighter for which I would tease myself mercilessly were I not me, and fled with it, the baby, and an air mattress to my friend M's apartment. We arrived just in time to make M cook me dinner, watch "The Daily Show," and then uncompanionably fall asleep in the middle of "The Colbert Report."

M left for work early this morning, and we have been alone in the apartment all day, wreaking havoc on her DVD collection (the baby) and eating everything in her refrigerator (me). It is dismal outside, gray and chilly, and I am half-grateful to the Terrifying Toxic Dust Invasion for giving us something to do other than stay in our house and sulk all day (namely, stay in M's house and sulk all day). It's sort of like I'm on vacation, and I am feeling strangely cheery about the whole thing - toxic dust, air mattress, Vera Bradley overnighter, etc. I am even, in celebration, allowing the baby to eat Post-It notes, though I probably oughtn't, seeing as they belong to M.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Birth Doula

Last Friday night, in the middle of a friend's birthday party, I was summoned to attend my first birth as a birth doula. After a night of labor and about an hour on an epidural, my client delivered a baby girl on Saturday morning at 6AM at a quiet, shiny hospital on the Upper East Side. About an hour and a half after the birth, I stumbled out of the hospital into a cab, confused and sleepy.

In the days since the birth, my husband and the one or two friends who knew about it have asked me with some excitement, "So, how did it go?!" And mostly, I don't really know how it went. Nothing bad happened. My client delivered vaginally with the absolute minimum of complications. (I won't say "no complications," because unless your practitioner is as gentle as Gandhi and you are as unbending as the Hitler Youth, giving birth in a hospital entails complications, because it is the hospital's job to create complications. I say this with no bitterness. It's just true.) My client was in labor. I stayed with her until she gave birth. Then I left. Is that what a doula does?

During my doula training, the trainer - a rather famous doula in the New York area - said again and again, "Less is more, doulas! Less is more!" We even watched videos of (also very famous) doulas at work, and our trainer pointed out all of the things that she wouldn't have done. "That's too much! Too much! What is she doing? Why is she waving her hand in mom's face? Why is she standing there in that circle of love? [Meaning getting in the way of the mom-dad connection.] Less is more, doulas! Less is more!" At the time, it made perfect sense, and I was also feeling flattered to be addressed as "doula," and I wrote it down diligently: "less...is...more." I pictured myself sitting serenely next to my laboring client, my wise, angelic presence permeating the room.

As much as I thought I understood "less is more," though, I found myself rather shocked at how very little I did over the course of my client's labor. In early labor, I put a hot towel on her back. ("Oooh, that feels good," she said, but then the towel fell off her back and we forgot about it.) In the triage room, I rubbed her feet. ("That really helps," she said, but moments later I said something, and she said, disappointedly, "Now you broke the focus.") In the labor and delivery room, I put a tissue with peppermint oil on her pillow. ("That smells good," she said.) Really, honestly, these are the three distinct actions I remember myself taking. Other than that, I was mostly doing nothing.

Thinking back to my training ("Less is more, doulas! Less is more!") and also talking to E, the director of the doula service that I am working with, I am relatively sure that I did a relatively good job, and that all those times I was doing nothing, it was because there was nothing to be done. I know in my brain that just being there - "Occupying that emotional space," as E put it - is the most important function that a doula can serve. But it is REALLY counter to my nature to just lie around like lox when there is a person in the room who appears to need help. I'm not saying that I'm super-compassionate or anything, but I do have a highly-developed guilt mechanism that locks in really well with an abysmal inferiority complex, making me feel like I should always be DOING something to help people, because if I don't, they'll be mad at me, and I'm not worth anything anyway. I also have a touch of ADD (I'm being perfectly serious here), which means that just sitting in a serene manner is not really part of my psychological landscape. So it looks as though, for me, Doing Nothing With Conviction is going to be the hardest part of being a doula, rather than, say, Back Massage. Because if you can't Do Nothing With Conviction, you will end up dithering, and a dithering doula is, like, the pits, whereas a doula who is not so hot at Back Massage is totally live-with-able.

Oddly, while I felt dithery and anxious ("Ohmygod I'm not doing anything!! Ohmygod what should I do?! Ohmygod she's having another contraction!! Shitfuck!!") beyond all belief through a great deal of my client's labor, I appear to have not come off that way. The nurse, filling out the feedback form I need for certification, wrote, "She's a very calming presence," and E reports that my client said I was a big help throughout. The aforementioned inferiority complex keeps singsonging at me, "They're just saying that to be nice...they're just saying that to be nice..." In a more grownup part of my brain, though, I am just barely allowing myself to think that it might be true - I might have been a positive, calming presence for my client, and, all dithers aside, I might even have a special talent for being that way. I can't be sure that this is true, but I am working on thinking that it is, because I know that as much as I want to help my clients, I will only be able to do so inasmuch as I believe that I can.

Friday, September 12, 2008


When I was eighteen years old, my half-brother X disappeared. I have two half-brothers, X and Y, my father's sons, both of whom are about twenty years older than I. Obviously, we were not raised together, and we never even lived in the same house together, although, come to think of it, I seem to remember X living in the spare bedroom in our house for a few months when I was little. For reasons that are somewhat opaque to me, having their foundations in events that occurred before I was born, there have always been serious tensions in the relationship between my half-brothers and my family. Y categorically refused, for ten years or more, to have any contact at all; X was more present, but intermittently hostile. None of these things were directed at me. I was a pretty little girl upon whom everyone doted, X and Y included, and they tried their best to be brotherly. If anything, I was closer to X, as he came around more often. He was jokey and goofy and enjoyed making me laugh. Once, when I was little, he took me to the zoo, and I also remember him trying to teach me about right and left, and I also have a copy of The Hobbit and a Joanna Hurwitz book with birthday inscriptions from him. Inevitably, though, adult issues interceded, and overall I did not see much of my brothers. I always tell people that I am an only child.

When I was a senior in high school, X invited me to come visit him for a week in California. I did, and though I told everyone including myself that it was really fun, the visit was in fact somewhat harrowing. X, though essentially kind, was clearly not quite OK. He maintained an unsteady veneer of casual jokeyness, and his sense of humor was very much intact, but his overall behavior was random, manic, and overwrought. He talked at me incessantly, loading me with bitter diatribes about politics, economics, and various members of our family. Also, he had the alarming habit of falling into abrupt deep sleeps, sometimes almost mid-sentence. The entire experience destabilized me intensely, so much so that, some time towards the end of the week, I broke down and sobbed at a restaurant over mussels, in the middle of yet another furious spiel about I don't know what. At the time, I assured X and myself that I was just tired because we had done so much sightseeing that day.

About three months later, X disappeared. For awhile, we just couldn't reach him, and we thought maybe he was busy. Then his office - he held a high position in finance - said he was on sick leave for back trouble, which none of us had known he had. Then his home answering machine had a new outgoing message, a weird one of a jostling, muffled conversation, as though someone had inadvertently hit the record button with an elbow. Then his office said he was gone, and they had no further information. Then his home number was disconnected. That was twelve years ago, and I have not heard from him since.

Today, my father emailed me a phone number that he had gotten hold of somehow, saying he thought it might be X's number. I called right away, and the person on the other end gave me a cell phone number. I called the cell phone number, and my brother answered. His voice, as always, was jokey and goofy, and I could not tell what he was feeling, other than faint surprise.

"I can't talk right now, because I'm in a meeting!" He said, "No, I really am! Aren't I in a meeting?" And he must have held his phone up to the room, because I heard five or six voices - "He's in a meeting!" "He's in a meeting!"

I suddenly remembered that when I went to visit California, I had arrived at the airport only to find that he not there to pick me up. When I called him, he was jokey and goofy and apologetic. "Sorry, honey! I'm here with a friend, cleaning my apartment for you, and I didn't get done in time! Here, talk to her, she'll tell you!" And he handed the phone to a dead-voiced woman who said, "He's been cleaning his apartment." When I got to his apartment - by cab - she was still there, blond and scruffy and Courtney-Love-like in jeans and a fatigue jacket, to my eyes too young and too dirty to be the appropriate companion for a middle-aged executive. She left, and I did not see her again that week.

This morning, hearing "He's in a meeting!", I wondered who was in the room with my brother. Was he in a fancy office like the one where he used to work? Was he surrounded by people in khakis and button-downs, or more Courtney Loves? Was he tricking me? "This is your number, right?" He asked cheerily. "I'll call you back when I'm finished!"

I have not heard back from him yet.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I have just opened the current issue of Lucky to find that it features not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE items that had been on my What I Want for Fall and Winter list. I am consumed with rage, because this means that I NOW CANNOT PURCHASE OR WEAR THOSE ITEMS, BECAUSE IF I DO, PEOPLE WILL THINK, "OH SHE GOT THAT BECAUSE SHE SAW IT IN LUCKY." Equally disturbing (or perhaps more so) is the unavoidable conclusion that I must have the same taste as the editors of Lucky. Fucking shit hell.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Cape People

At my high school in Northern Virginia in the mid-nineties, we did not have Goths. Instead, we had the Cape People. (To my knowledge, I have only one regular reader who attended high school with me. RJT, you totally remember the Cape People, right?) The Cape People were a clique of what I would maybe call nerds or dorks, if it were not for the facts that A) That's not nice, and B) I attended Geek High, so, technically speaking, every single one of us was a nerd-dork of titanic proportions, even the coolest of the Cool lacrosse players, cheerleaders, etc. So instead I will say that the Cape People were a clique of students who were considered to be socially undesirable by most other students at the school.

The root cause of this undesirability is hard to locate. It is true that many, if not all, of the Cape People suffered variously from social awkwardness, zits, and a measure of poor fashion sense. However, it is also true that pretty much every high school student on the face of the earth, whether Cool or Cape Person or somewhere in between, suffers variously from social awkwardness, zits, and a measure of poor fashion sense. (I, myself, had two of those problems to varying degrees, and one, not at all.) So, while it made perfect sense at the time, I cannot now come up with a clear explanation regarding the unCoolness of the Cape People. I can only really resort to tautology - the Cape People were socially undesirable kids, and they were socially undesirable kids because they were Cape People.

In any case, unlike most other cliques in the school, which stuck to the fail-safe high school formula of T-shirt/jean/sneaker, the Cape People had a distinct look. While a fair number of the Cape People dressed fairly normally a fair amount of the time, a Cape Person in full-dress uniform, so to speak, would wear the following*:

  1. Tight black jeans. (We call them "skinny jeans" now, but I think, back then, they were just tight.)
  2. A washed-silk shirt in black, teal, or burgundy. A male Cape Person would wear one of those broad-shouldered ones favored at the time by Jerry Seinfeld or Garth Brooks; a female Cape Person would wear one of the ones with ruffles down the front that you could get from Express or the Victoria's Secret catalogue all through the nineties.
  3. A large silver pendant and one or two large silver rings. Always with a magicky sort of flavor - a battle-axe maybe, or a dragon with a "ruby" eye. Also, for juniors and seniors, a class ring (everyone in my school had one) that was either one of the chunkiest or one of the most delicate designs available, but never in the standard size.

  4. A belt-loop-to-wallet chain that (somewhat puzzlingly) often also held a large number of keys.

  5. A black cape. Often homemade. Sometimes elaborate, with flourishes such as a large hood, a silky red lining, or frog closures at the neck.

  6. Black Minnetonka Moccasin Knee-Hi Fringe Boots. These were the real must-have for all Cape People, and were often worn without the rest of the Cape Person getup.

  7. Optional: Homemade chain mail tunic.

The majority of the Cape People were, oddly, in the color guard, meaning the people that run around after the marching band while throwing flags in the air. Now, running around after a marching band while throwing flags in the air is a patently ridiculous activity, so between that and the Renaissance Faire attire, the Cape People, poor kids, really did not do themselves any favors. (The ridiculosity here is such that you may think I am making it all up. I am not. Ask my high school friend RJT. You tell them, girlfriend. There were medieval flag-throwers at our high school, right?) So, unsurprisingly, Cape People were roundly abused by all and sundry, though, happily for them, not as badly as they would have been abused at schools that were not Geek High. We Geek High-ers were as tolerant a group of adolescents as you might find, which I guess is to say that we were not tolerant at all, but rather too weak and/or too goody-goody and/or too loaded down with AP Bio books to actually beat anyone up.

While I am sure I did some behind-the-back snickering, I mostly just stayed the heck away from the Cape People. They made me feel unbelievably uncomfortable, wearing like a badge the ugly awkwardness, the sense of strangeness and otherness, that I saw in my own self and took so much care to hide. I was deathly afraid that any accidental association would lead my peers to see the truth that, under my eyeliner, clogs, and veneer of aloof sophistication, I really was a Cape Person, ungainly and out of tune in a way that could only provoke laughter and ridicule.

I had not thought about the Cape People for a really long time, not until about a month ago, when the image of a Cape Person popped, unbidden, into my mind. And do you know what thought accompanied the image? Not, I wish I had been nicer to those people. Not, I wonder what they're doing now. But, Those are some hot boots. Yes. The black Minnetonka Moccasin Knee-Hi Fringe Boots. Now, in addition to serving as a symbol for the extreme social isolation, the sheer crazy dorkitude, of Cape Personhood, this flavor of footwear fits squarely into the current Williamsburg Hip Ugly Chic aesthetic that I so revile. Those two facts alone should make these boots anathema to me, not to mention the bare, unavoidable fact that they are knee-high suede moccasins with fringe. However, I am entirely immune to reason in this matter. Renaissance Faire? Nonsense! Bedford Avenue? Pishposh! These boots - soft, slim, and dark - are clearly the epitome of modern elegance. A woman wearing such boots must necessarily exude an air of sure-footed sexiness, and in my current state of fevered fashion myopia, I simply cannot understand why anyone would think otherwise.

When I explained all of this to my husband, making sweeping hand gestures to illustrate the glamour of the boot, he asked, "So, does that mean that the Cape People were right about things after all?" This sort of stopped me in my tracks, because it seemed to me fairly clear that the Cape People were right about nothing at all - not even the boots, really, because as lovely as they are to my eyes now, they were not that lovely in the mid-nineties on zitty fifteen-year-old suburbanites wearing capes. While it's a tempting conclusion for this author of gently touching blog posts to reach, I cannot finally say that the Cape People were deeply wise about anything, footwear-related or otherwise. They were just deeply silly, or more accurately, deeply adolescent. Perhaps the idea of discovering something beautiful in that morass of adolescent silliness is at the root of my sudden, mad desire for Natty Bumppo boots. It is true that I am finally at an age at which I can look back at my high school years with a measure of detachment, separating out the true from the false, the vision from the blindness.

In the end, I'm not really sure what my desperate boot-need means - a re-visioning of my teen years; a secret desire to be a young, drunk, and careless Hip Ugly Chic Brooklynite; a subconscious salute to my fascination with the Leatherstocking novels of James Fenimore Cooper; or merely a slightly delayed buying-in to a sartorial trend of dubious aesthetic value. It may be all of these things or none of them at all. Luckily, when this particular fever passes, though I may never discover its source, I will only be out $75.95 plus shipping and handling, which, when you think about it, is not a bad deal at all.

*This uniform is not what I was referring to when I mentioned poor fashion sense. The poor fashion sense came in when they were NOT in uniform. The uniform itself is rather brilliantly beyond fashion in its bizarre, but somehow internally consistent, rules.