Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup

"We Greeks get married in circles, to impress upon ourselves the essential matrimonial facts: that to be happy you have to find variety in repetition; that to go forward you have to come back to where you began."
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

Since I began doing the podcast, and thus revisiting the poetry that was the subject of my junior paper and senior thesis, I have been thinking about the message of most of that poetry. It is conveyed not only by Millay, Teasdale, Wylie, Taggard and Bogan, but also a large portion of all poetry, and popular music and cinema, and the message is roughly this: romance is serial novelty that ends in despair. And what's more, it is a despair that we, on some level, relish. This is what I was playing at, a bit, in high school; I stood back from the very real anguish of betrayal and unrequited love and viewed it with a certain satisfaction, because it looked like a movie. In college I managed to subconsciously protect myself by selecting such spectacularly inappropriate love objects that they wouldn't even engage, and I was ready for real, lifelong love when it emerged from the disguise of friendship.

Here is what popular culture teaches women (I'm not sure about men, never having been one): it is glamorous and genuine to love someone who does not, will not, cannot, love you back; someone who purports to love you now but will not stay; and (my least favorite) someone who is married to someone else.

The only alternative seems to be the "happily ever after" fairy tale, which some decry. But stories have to end somewhere, and I vastly prefer Cinderella waving from the back of her carriage to Francesca's children discovering that her married life was a lie.

A lot has been said about the heady experience of being "in love" versus the long-term reality of loving someone, so much so that I need not add to it. The conventional wisdom is that for a maximum of two years, people want to spend every moment with each other and go around plucking petals off of daisies and writing poetry; then, if they had the bad luck to get married within that time, they make a conscious decision to face the bleak "hard work" of marriage and monogamy. There are rewards, we are grimly promised, but somehow the tone of most media makes it hard to believe.

And, unlike most cultural phenomena that I decry, this one is not at all modern. There are some who suggest that the very notion that marriage and romantic love should have anything to do with each other is a recent phenomenon--but then there are plenty of ancient stories in which love leads to marriage, or wishes it had. It is true, too, that we humans crave variety.
There is an undeniable thrill in trying something new, and in a sense we give that up when we vow ourselves to one person. But it is bizarre to pretend that there is anything admirable about beating your head against the wall of unsuccessful relationships. It's really not much of a sacrifice to build a life with someone who wants the best for you.

So in answer to C-Belle's question, "to what extent does practicality nullify romance?" I can only pose another: What is romance? The trembling uncertainty of the first kiss, or all the have-a-good-day and welcome-home kisses of a lifetime? And one answer is this: every morning since I was a senior in high school I have started the day with a cup of coffee. It is always a cup of coffee, never tea or cocoa or Postum. Every day it is new, and every day it is wonderful.

I do wish there were more poems about happy love, but I can't blame the poets. I haven't written a good one in seventeen years. I live it instead.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Well! I probably won't try that again. For one thing, someone who emailed me privately used the word "unhinged." And someone else "slightly" agreed.

I can't help repeating that I have no quarrel with the state's decision to intervene in Texas. I merely have a discomfort, perhaps poorly communicated, with some of the resulting cultural criticism. And it's probably unwarranted as well, because one of my more news-aware friends informs me that, far from my sentimental vision of the compound children rolling hoops and pulling taffy, they were not allowed to play at all.

So! Anybody read any good books lately, or been anyone's mother?

There's a long article in the Telegraph about the benefits of idle parenting. Yes! *raises fist in air*

The Telegraph is just on fire: here's one about how Daphne DuMaurier wrote Rebecca.

When I was designing R.'s "Chess club president" costume for Disco Knights, I trawled the Internet for inspiration, making sure I hit all the nerd conventions. (And don't bother abusing me for that. This is junior high musical theater. It's like commedia dell'arte.) I discovered that it is possible to purchase not only a Naughty Librarian costume, but also a Techie Becky. My closet is full of way better Naughty Librarian costumes than that.

Here's an article in the New York Times about the Monty Hall Problem and its implications for psychological studies. The cognitive and mathematical issues raised are definitely worth wrapping your mind around, but I have a more prosaic explanation for the experiment described in the sidebar: when given a choice between blue and red m&ms, monkeys think, "Ick! Blue food?" and when given a choice between blue and green m&ms, monkeys think "Ick! Blue food?" I was against the blue m&m myself; and I still miss the light brown m&m.

Now I am off, armed with Aspergum because I have a sore throat I need to ignore, for a day in the city.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

First they came for the polygamists

I want to be clear at the outset: I am not in favor of child abuse, rape, statutory rape, forced marriage, polygamy, incest, or brainwashing. I do think something needs to be done when young teenaged girls are essentially enslaved by their community.

But every so often, something in the rhetoric around the recent events in Texas makes me twitch.

"Sect members less mature than outsiders, psychiatrist testifies."

Well, less mature how? I wish I could trust the court-appointed psychiatrist that he's evaluating the "thought patterns" of ten-year-olds, but how can he help comparing them to the ten-year-olds he typically encounters? Take a ten-year-old who wears platform shoes and sparkly nail polish, sasses back like Hannah Montana, got to level 37 on Sonic and Mario Olympics yesterday, and always orders the bubblegum chai at Starbucks after school. Does she seem more mature than the ten-year-old who dresses like Holly Hobbie, plays hopscotch and tag with her siblings, makes clothes for her favorite doll, and helps her mother get dinner?

About the constant references to the long, flowing, pioneer-style, prairie dresses: why does this seem to rattle everyone so much? A long dress can be a very handy garment. Cool in the summer, warm in winter. With an apron, proper bathing, and the right underwear, you can wear it a few times before washing, and cut down on laundry. It's pretty. Relatively comfortable. Modest. Do I want my wardrobe dictated by a group of men who control my life? No. Is that what's happening there? We don't know. Is it worse than having my wardrobe dictated by a magazine or a department store?

I understand the impulse to resist the dominant culture. We have friends who think we should do it more, and friends who think we should do it less. There are no video games in our house. A recent experiment in watching Disney Channel shows has not had promising results so far, and the study may be canceled because of danger to the participants.

Yes, this is counter-cultural on a very small scale; but we also espouse a faith that many people find offensive. Because we follow its precepts, are we "less mature and less capable of making [our] own decisions"?

And will the state come for our children next?

Thursday Poetry Podcast: Three of the Sea

Three of the Sea

"The Puritan's Ballad," Elinor Wylie
"Crossing The Bar," Alfred Lord Tennyson
"Requiem," Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Speaking of Inherited Temperament

While I was writing the last post, my father stopped by.

"Quiz," he said (he often starts conversations this way): "What is the most tear-jerking of all show tunes?" I thought for a moment.

"Try To Remember."

What's Going On

...and where I've been.

First, not-so-little-R. appeared in the spring musical at school:

which involved a lot of rehearsing and giving homework short shrift. R. and I attended both performances, because I subscribe to Alice Trillin's philosophy as described below by Calvin Trillin:

"My wife's policy on attending school plays (a policy that also covers pageants, talent shows, revues, recitals, and spring assemblies) is pretty well known: she believes that if your child is in a school play and you don't go to every performance, including the special Thursday matinee for the fourth grade, the county will come and take the child."

How did attending two hour-plus performances and driving someone to a handful of long rehearsals keep me from blogging and make the house a complete mess? I don't know, but it did. I did also iron his costume. And design it.

And then, and then, when the play was over, it was time to kick into high gear on The Project:
We call this The Temple at Luxor for short, but it is really "The entrance pylons, six colossal Rameses statues and two obelisks from the temple at Luxor," because after R.'s topic was approved I took a good look at the online resources, virtual 3D models, and aerial views of the temple and asked, how can we scale this back? And by scale this back, I mean, "plan this project so that it very nearly breaks us, but not quite." My job? Apart from teaching my son how to make pylons and obelisks out of foam core and paper towel tubes when I don't really know how to do that myself, my main task was to stand at the top of the basement stairs with a whip and keep him seated at the craft table for hours upon end as he sculpted the statues:

and inscribed the hieroglyphics:

Did I mention the five-hour track meet on Sunday for which I was inadequately dressed? When will I learn that sporting events in April require warm clothing? The coldest I have ever been in my entire life was at the Vet in the spring of 1992. I was wearing a lilac cotton cable turtleneck and green-and-lilac checked linen blazer. They were very cute, and they were not warm. But I digress.

What was I talking about? Ah yes, this is what I, and my son, have been doing with our time. The poor thing sat with me at the dining room table yesterday morning, eating his breakfast and trying to look with satisfaction at his completed project, but really only able to see the ramp, with all the projects of high school and college sliding down.

Coming up: the post on romance I promised C-Belle, the return of the poetry podcast, and why I feel uneasy about the polygamous sect in Texas.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hi! I'm Still Here!

My life is consumed by my son's Social Studies project and running, my own and others'.

I promise to post next week. Lots of long, ruminative, navel-gazy posts. And pictures of the project.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Cleaning Out The Bookmarks

"I say it here, it comes out there." Aaron Altman in Broadcast News

In this case, I bookmark it there, it comes out here. Just as I now have a DVR to watch television for me (e.g. when I tape the "Bring It On" marathon and then delete it), I have bookmarks--and, with luck, blog readers--to read and synthesize the web content that grabs me:

Terry Teachout on how piano recitals have changed and might benefit from not taking themselves so seriously.

An article about Joyce Kilmer in Catholic Men's Quarterly. I did read this one carefully and was riveted. I have always liked Kilmer, and felt sorry for him as the most obscure highway rest stop namesake in New Jersey. I didn't know he was a convert.

This is kind of a good idea. If only I didn't have the sneaking suspicion that 75% of our cables are useless and should be disposed of.

This is long, and I read it too: an article from the New York Times magazine about the abstinence/chastity movement on college campuses. I am all for chastity, but two things about this movement make me uncomfortable: one, the blustering assurance from most participants that their morality has absolutely nothing to do with religion, and two, I don't think advocating abstinence should be one's hobby. One of the problems with the way our culture approaches sexuality is that it is given too much significance. Dorothy Sayers wrote an essay entitled "The Other Six Deadly Sins" in which she expressed her impatience with the primacy of lust in everyone's thoughts. Obsession with lust is in itself, I think, a kind of lust. My advice to these students would be to make a decision about what your moral standards are, find some like-minded people (for there's no doubt that like-minded friends are helpful in upholding moral standards), and then do something real, like playing intramural hockey or putting on a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.

Photoshop Express
, the long-awaited free online image editor from Photoshop maker Adobe, now available in beta.

Excellent. Why I never go to Toys R Us.

The story of a young American woman who became the chef in a grand chateau.

Also, note three new places to drink and be whole: The Morning News, the New Partisan and the New Criterion blog. Query: will there one day be a New Morning News? A New McSweeneys?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Scenes From Life With My Children

R. comes home from rehearsal for the spring musical. "I pride myself on the fact that I'm not asked to repeat my lines twelve times," he says.

M. comes out of school on Tuesday. "This was the worst day of my life," she says glumly, and refuses to explain. Did she get in trouble? Yes. Sent to the office? No. Went "on yellow" via the traffic-light behavioral modification scheme in her classroom? No. Note home? No. She doesn't want to talk about it. Today it comes out: when they were playing Seven Up, the teacher told her not to press someone's thumb down and then think better of it and pry it up again.