Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Baby Days

Last night, the baby and I sat on the floor eating pomegranate. For awhile, I fed him one little seed at a time, but then, suddenly, he became ravenous for it, and grabbed an entire hunk from my hand. Babbling and waving his arms, he dug his two teeth indiscriminately into seeds, pith, and skin, covering his face with juice and the floor with pomegranate bits. He fell asleep about half an hour after his pomegranate orgy, and I wiped the floor carefully, but it's still a little sticky today.

The baby is always on the move these days, so it's hard to get a non-blurry picture. He wreaks havoc wherever he goes, pulling records, CDs, and books off the shelves, emptying his toy bin, splashing in the dog's water bowl, drumming on the trash cans, thumping on the record player.

In a rambling, mostly-aimless trip to Willilamsburg yesterday, we shared a falafel sandwich and a chocolate chip cookie, got accused of gift-card fraud at American Apparel (true story), and bought new baby boots and a pair of small, wooden maracas. At home, after having the boots put on his feet, he promptly opened a kitchen cabinet, found and uncapped a bottle of canola oil, poured it on the floor, and put his feet in the puddle. As for the maracas, he hit himself in the head with one today and cried himself to sleep. He is still asleep now, and, miraculously, for the first time in two weeks or so, my head is not-spinning enough that I can sit down and write about it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Late Bloomer

I have just finished reading a Malcolm Gladwell article in The New Yorker about late-blooming artists - painters, writers, etc. who take years and years to come into their own artistically. This, of course, is in contrast with the precocious genius, an archetype beloved by all and sundry and celebrated in such objectionable creations as Amadeus. (Egregious though that film is, it's really important to note that Elizabeth Berridge is adorable in it, and why was she never in any movies again?) Generally speaking, people tend to LOVE precocious geniuses - "And he was only sixteen!!!" they say in exaggeratedly awed tones, or "And all of that happened before she turned twenty-one!!!". I think there are two basic reasons for this adoration of artistic precocity:
  1. It makes people feel better about themselves in that it reduces the value of the artistic accomplishment in question. If people like Mozart and Jonathan Safran Foer (EASY, TIGER! I am not equating their accomplishments! Those are just two examples from the article, OKAY? GOD!) can just pull complex artistic creations out of their asses every fifteen minutes or so, then those creations are clearly the result of magic, rather than intense application of willpower, energy, intellect, craft, and vision. I mean, if writing an opera comes as naturally to Mozart as burping comes to me, then really, the opera is of no more value than a burp, even though it sounds rather nicer, so I don't have to feel bad about the fact that I spend more time burping than writing operas.
  2. (And this is related, but also sort of separate, which is why I am giving it its own number, which is 2.) It releases people from having to make any sort of judgement about the artistic creations in question. The guy is a GENIUS!!! The creation (novel, painting, whatever) is a BOLT FROM THE BLUE!!! It only took him TWO DAYS to create!!! And he's not even THIRTY YET!!! OH MY GOD!!! (Sound of heads exploding in appreciation.) Amid such hoopla, the actual thing itself disappears, as does any sober examination of its merits, its meanings, its causes, its effects. So we can just wallow in what are essentially factoids about the artist and the art without troubling ourselves to actually examine either, which effort would take a bit of application, knowledge, and, well, effort.

In contrast, the late-blooming artist, as described by Gladwell, is a somewhat more uncomfortable figure, because it is more recognizable - it hits closer to home. Late-blooming artists are often not noticeably extraordinary in their fields when they are six or sixteen or twenty-six or maybe even thirty-six. They simply work and work and work and work and rework and rework and rework and rework until things begin to come together in the right way. In this story, the strain that attends the creative process is visible. A "precocious genius" narrative allows us to see art and artist as entities foreign to our existence; a "late-blooming artist" narrative forces us to come to terms with the fact that the artist is a person and the art a human production. As Gladwell puts it, "sometimes [genius] is just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table."

Personally, I find consolation in the late-blooming artist concept for obvious reasons. I am not comparing myself to Cezanne, Gladwell's prime example of late blooming, but I do find myself, at the age of thirty, only just approaching what I want to be when I grow up, and only just discovering where my true talents may or may not lie. It is a great comfort to think, then, that historical precedence shows that my time is still not past, that there is still ample opportunity to reach for greatness - or rather, for my heart's content.

Towards the end of his article, Gladwell points out that all late-blooming artists have one thing in common - patrons, who make the long gestation of their art possible. In Cezanne's case, it was two great artists, one art dealer, and a rich father. In writer Ben Fountain's case, it was his wife, willing to work full-time while he stayed home - for the eighteen years it took him to publish his first book. "Late bloomers' stories," Gladwell writes, "are invariably love stories." Reading this, I felt my heart swell for a moment and my eyes well with tears. My husband and I have no money right now, literally, and it is unlikely that we will be meaningfully out of the red any time soon. Despite this, my husband has not once asked that I return to work full time, either now or in the future. He has taken it on faith that what I am doing is what I need to be doing, and he has never questioned the choices I have made - to be with the baby, to write, to pursue work as a doula, to train as a childbirth educator. If I find success, it will be in a large part because of his willingness to believe in and value my personal goals above everything - above even the financial interest of the family. I can't really think why he would do this, why he would show me such generosity, such patience, and such devotion. The only possible explanation is that this is, as Gladwell writes, a love story.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cape People 2

Hey! Looks like Kate Moss went to school with Cape People, too! Ha! I knew we had something in common other than the fact that we are both coked-out, concert-puking, jump-suit-wearing ex-models.


As I have mentioned before, I go to Starbucks rather frequently, because 1) my parents kindly keep a Starbucks gift card loaded up for me, and 2) what else is there to do? Usually, I just get a drink and a snack to go, but a couple of weeks ago, I decided to stay and sit for a few minutes. While I was drinking my coffee, the baby fell asleep unexpectedly. (All of the baby's naps these days are unexpected, as he staunchly refuses to follow any predictable schedule and, some days, staunchly refuses to nap at all. If you have a baby who is not yet nine months old, listen to me carefully: ENJOY IT WHILE YOU CAN. Not that this time is not enjoyable, it really, really is, but OH MY GOD.) Not knowing whether he would be out for five minutes or two hours and caught in a fit of indecision as to how to use the time best, I ended up just squandering it, gazing disconsolately at the previous day's Times, cursing myself for not having brought my laptop or a book or The New Yorker or being otherwise productive.

So yesterday, I decided to set off for Starbucks fully prepared to be one of those busy, productive people who sit at Starbucks being busy and productive. I brought my laptop and The New Yorker, though no book, as I have lost the book I was reading and stubbornly refuse to start another one until I find it. Carrying the baby in a sling and pushing the stroller with my bag in it (I know, backwards, I know), I walked to Starbucks, enjoying the brief return to warm weather that this week has brought us. When I got to Starbucks, I ordered a drink and a piece of pound cake, strapped the baby into the stroller with his jingletoy, and sat down at the counter, ready to be productive. It was at this point that I became aware of the gigantic hole in my brilliant plan: the baby had to be asleep for it to work. Which, needless to say, he was not.

So, instead of doing work, I just sat and chatted to the baby, feeding him pieces of banana and feeding myself pieces of pound cake. (I offered to share, but he didn't want any.) One of the reasons that I usually don't stay at Starbucks with the baby is because, when I do, I always feel like a character - the stay-at-home mom at Starbucks with her baby in the middle of the day. A character - as opposed to a person - is someone you can just discount, and sometimes I think that no character is more discountable than a mom with a baby and a stroller and some noisy toys and some smushed-up banana. I have ignored that character countless, countless times, my eyes sweeping right past her on the street, in the supermarket, in the subway. A stay-at-home-mom-with-kid was someone who was not me, someone completely unconnected to my life, and indeed to any life at all, someone who has turned entirely aside from life to devote herself to what is essentially a grubby pile of congealed applesauce and milk sitting in an even grubbier stroller. (I am shocked, writing the words, to realize that I really did think this, despite always saying I loved kids, despite always saying I couldn't wait to be a mom.

I had chosen a seat that was at a high counter, right in the center of the shop, and, sitting there feeding banana to the baby, I felt exposed and self-conscious of the figure I was cutting, the mom with the baby. I examined myself for a moment and realized, startled, that everything about me was shouting the story of my life right now. The baby, dressed in corduroy, sat in a mid-priced Italian stroller with a ring sling hanging off the back, the thick Guatemalan cotton creased and discolored with months of hard use. My giant mom-sized tote, its straps fraying at the edges, slouched on the counter, spilling out a computer cord, a cloth diaper, and a fuzzy black cardigan. My and the baby's ostensibly smart outfits of black and navy were revealed, in the bright mid-morning sun, to be covered with dog hair, flokati rug residue, and crusty banana bits. My new high-heeled clogs, purchased furtively at a boutique in Williamsburg, already showed wear at the heels. I wondered if anyone else was looking at me as closely as I was looking at myself, and if they were seeing the same things. I wondered, if I looked closely at anyone else sitting at the Starbucks, would I see the same dust, the same fraying, the same wear and tear?

The baby finished his banana and began to squirm in the stroller. I stuffed the computer cord, cloth diaper, and cardigan back into my bag, got as many pound cake and banana bits off myself as I could, and wrestled the stroller out the door. On the walk home, the baby fell asleep, but he woke up again when I took him out of the stroller at the door to our building, and he didn't sleep again until the early evening.