Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Garrison Keillor, on Hillary

I saw Hillary once working a rope line for more than an hour, a Secret Service man holding her firmly by the hips as she leaned over the rope and reached into the mass of arms and hands reaching out to her. She had learned the art of encountering the crowd and making it look personal. It was not glamorous work, more like picking fruit, and it took the sort of discipline your mother instills in you: those people waited to see you so by gosh you can treat them right.
So it’s no surprise she pushed herself to the point of collapse the other day. What’s odd is the perspective, expressed in several stories, that her determination to keep going reveals a “lack of transparency” ---- that she should’ve announced she had pneumonia and gone home and crawled into bed.
I’ve never gone fishing with her, which is how you really get to know someone, but I did sit next to her at dinner once, one of those stiff dinners that is nobody’s idea of a wild good time, the conversation tends to be stilted, everybody’s beat, you worry about spilling soup down your shirtfront. She being First Lady led the way and she being a Wellesley girl, the way led upward. We talked about my infant daughter and schools and about Justice Blackmun, and I said how inspiring it was to sit and watch the Court in session, and she laughed and said, “I don’t think it’d be a good idea for me to show up in a courtroom where a member of my family might be a defendant.” A succinct and witty retort. And she turned and bestowed her attention on Speaker Dennis Hastert, who was sitting to her right. She focused on him and even made him chuckle a few times. I was impressed by her smarts, even more by her discipline.
I don’t have that discipline. Most people don’t. Politics didn’t appeal to me back in my youth, the rhetoric (“Ask not what your country can do for you”) was so wooden compared to “so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” so I walked dark rainy streets imagining the great novel I wouldn’t write and was still trying to be cool and indifferent well into my thirties, when other people were making a difference in the world.
Hillary didn’t have a prolonged adolescence and fiction was not her ambition. She doesn’t do dreaminess. What some people see as a relentless quest for power strikes me as the good habits of a serious Methodist. Be steady. Don’t give up. It’s not about you. Work for the night is coming.
The woman who does not conceal her own intelligence is a fine American tradition, going back to Anne Bradstreet and Harriet Beecher Stowe and my ancestor Prudence Crandall, but none has been subjected to the steady hectoring that Mrs. Clinton has. She is the first major-party nominee to be pictured in prison stripes by the opposition. She is the first cabinet officer ever to be held personally responsible for her own email server, something ordinarily delegated to anonymous nerds in I.T. The fact that terrorists attacked an American compound in Libya under cover of darkness when Secretary Clinton presumably got some sleep has been held against her, as if she personally was in command of the defense of the compound, a walkie-talkie in her hand, calling in air strikes.
Extremism has poked its head into the mainstream, aided by the Internet. Back in the day, you occasionally saw cranks on a street corner handing out mimeographed handbills arguing that FDR was responsible for Pearl Harbor, but you saw their bad haircuts, the bitterness in their eyes, and you turned away. Now they’re in your computer, whispering that the economy is on the verge of collapse and for a few bucks they’ll tell you how to protect your savings. But lacking clear evidence, we proceed forward. We don’t operate on the basis of lurid conjecture.
Someday historians will get this right and look back at the steady pitter-pat of scandals that turned out to be nothing, nada, zero and ixnay and will conclude that, almost a century after women’s suffrage, almost 50 years after Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law, a woman was required to run for office wearing concrete shoes. Check back fifty years from now and if I’m wrong, go ahead and dance on my grave.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Exit from Babyland*

I sing a song to Edie and Posy called To Babyland. It goes like this:

How many miles to Babyland? 
Anyone can tell.
Up one flight,
To the right,
Please to ring the bell.

What do they do in Babyland?
Dream and wake and play.
Laugh and grow,
Fonder grow, 
Jolly times have they.

What do they say in Babyland?
Why the oddest things.
Might as well
Try to tell
What the birdie sings.

Who is the queen of Babyland?
Mother kind and sweet.
And her love,
Born above,
Guides the little feet.

I learned it because I like memorizing text heavy songs (it helps me keep my wits about me), and Edie liked it when I sang it out of a book. I've grown to like it because it makes me think of a time and circumstance where children lived in "the nursery" exclusively, until they hit a certain age, which both frightens and delights me. And it also reminds me that early childhood has always been an isolationist undertaking. It's just the nature of it. First it has to do with nursing, then with napping, then with eating, then, before you know it, your world is--for all intents and purposes--"the nursery". And it becomes a kingdom of childhood.

And tomorrow, Edie, for what feels like the first time, departs it. She starts kindergarten tomorrow, and, while she's not exactly going away to college, it's full day, and feels very much like from now on, she's got her own schedule to keep.

And I'm so excited for her, because I know she'll love it. Edie was born for this. Her greatest gift is that she sees everyone as a friend. And I'm excited for me, too. For the increased flexibility of only having one child to cart around, and for the solitude while Posy naps. I've been waiting for this moment too.

But, tonight--and I'm sorry to say that this is all about to become about me--I was singing the last verse:

Who is the queen of Babyland?
Mother kind and sweet.

And I kind of lost it. Because, whether I like it or not, I am the queen of Babyland. I am that presence in her life. I am THE presence in her life. I am the queen of Babyland. And, while I have my failings, I am kind and sweet. And as I sang I started thinking about how my love has guided her little feet. And, again, I know it's just kindergarten, and I don't think I would care as much if she were a little bit bad. But, she's not. She's not a bit bad. She's so good. So purely good. And the idea of sending her into an environment I can't control makes me quake. I feel really certain that she's going to be fine, great even, but, a part of me can't help but wish that she could stay in Babyland. Maybe forever.

So I couldn't sing past

And her love, born above

So Edie's little voice chimed in, finishing the song

Guides the little feet.

Then she held up her foot for me to tickle, like we always do.


*I think it goes without saying that I have never been good with change.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Olympics!

1. Why are we not talking about those weird sculptures they're giving the athletes instead of flowers? Are we? Have I missed the articles about them? I hate them. They're awkward, no one knows what to do with them on the medal stand, and you know they're just going to be collecting dust within two months (if not sooner). Besides that, Michael Phelps has no flowers to give his mom. BRING BACK THE FLOWERS (or, remember the lauren crowns from the Athens games? How about those?)!

2. It's always this point in the games when I'm like "USA! USA! WE WIN EVERYTHING!" because it's been swimming and gymnastics and judo, apparently. But then we move into track and field and "I'm like, oh, never mind. Look at all those flags I don't immediately recognize."

3. I never knew it before, but I'm really, really into women's rugby. If you haven't watched a game, check to see if they're still playing and watch a match. It's amazing. It's like football, but the game never stops. Someone gets tackled (which happens a lot), and they just push the ball out from under them to another teammate and keep going. I love it.

4. So, everyone has seen that the diving pool has turned green, right? And that the pool next to it, the water polo pool is also starting to turn green. Which is awful, because the last thing that sport needs is less visibility. I mean, we're talking hunger games territory here.

You guys, it's only a few days in and I've already learned so much. So much about the human spirit. And by extension, myself.

Also, USA! USA! USA!


Friday, March 11, 2016

Everything Should Come in List Form


How many times I've run this week: um, once.

How many times I meant to run this week: More than once.

What I'm reading: My own work. Over and over.

What I wish I was reading: Full disclosure: I've had Go Set a Watchman on my desk for months. What's my problem?

Lunch plans: Posy naps, burrito bowl*, Seinfeld re-runs.

Expecting any day: To know where Edie was accepted into kindergarten (it's a crazy world around here).

Needing: So many things. To go to Trader Joe's, for one. New hand soap for the bathroom. To stop going to bed at 2:00 am. A good run (see above).

Reading on the internets: Have You Encountered the Soft Boy, which James reads like he could have written it himself.

Photo of: A touchstone that no longer exists.

* Explanation: I like burrito bowls and eat them as often as possible, but today it's especially important as I've got an avocado that's ready to eat, and you know how that is--one day it's like "noooooot yet", and the next day it's like "now now now!".



Sunday, January 31, 2016

This Face, Her Face, Posy's Face





Dear Posy,

You are so little now.  But so much bigger than you used to be.  Sometimes you fall asleep in my arms, or on my bed, or in your high chair, and I carry you to your crib.  I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and your long legs stretch so much further than I ever expect them to.  I am always surprised that you no longer tuck into my arms.  I am glad, because you're so funny and busy now that you're big, but it's also a loneliness for something that's gone.  But, it's strange, because your infancy was, like, JUST here, it takes work to wrap my mind around the fact that, now that it's gone, it's gone forever.

Oh, my Posy.  You talk so much.  You have so much to say, and I love just looking at your face as you look, by turns, surprised and emphatic and happy.  And there is nothing happier than you when you're happy.  You laugh and look around and make everyone around you laugh too.  I laugh as I walk down the street and people look at us and laugh with us.  You wave more now, and it makes people on the street feel like a million bucks.  You're so democratic with your good graces: checkers at the market, our friends, old men on the street, teenagers on the bus, dad.  I love to watch how people change when you pay attention to them.  Before I had you and Edie, I knew it was charming to see a baby smile, but watching people watching you, I realize that when you smile at people, they smile back like they're looking at the face of God.

You and Edie love each other so much, and I can't think of a single thing in my life that makes me feel as happy and accomplished.  You two are not always on the same page at the same time, sometimes all Edie wants is to love you and kiss you, but you're busy with something only you know.  And sometimes you follow Edie around and she yells at you to give her some space (which I think she's heard me say).  But, a lot of the time, your chubby arms wrap around her round belly, and she leans down and kisses your head or your cheek.  You two take splashy baths together, and Edie begs us to let you sleep with her, so she can cuddle you.

Posy, your hair is always in your eyes.  You love to be outside more than anything--you run at a full toddler sprint for your coat and shoes whenever anyone mentions going for a walk.  You hate to be left behind, and cry bitterly on the days that are too cold for dad to walk you to school with Edie.

If I'm not paying enough attention to you, you grasp my face and turn it straight at yours.  You mash your face against mine, which is your version of a kiss.  Your chubby arms wrap around my neck and I know that even when your arms are long and thin and doing other things, I will feel them as an echo.  You love me, Posy-pie, and, like those people on the bus, being loved by you is like hearing the voice of God say my name.



Friday, January 22, 2016

Life and Death: A Critical Analysis of Twilight, Reimagined, Chapters 6 and 7



Chapters 1-3

Chapters 4 and 5


Chapter 6: Scary Stories

Summary: Bella/Beau go with friends to La Push, the beach on the Quillayute Indian Reservation.  Bella/Beau meets Jacob/Jules, an old friend from childhood.  Jacob/Jules tells the story of the cold ones--vampires--who he/she says are the Cullens.  Jacob/Jules takes none of this seriously.

Synopsis: This one starts out as a Find and Replace job.  It changes a bit when Bella/Beau get to La Push and meets with Jacob/Jules.  Bella is more manipulative (by her own admission) to get information out of Jacob, whereas Beau considers manipulation by flirting, but then just kind of asks like a normal person.  Bella flirts with Jacob, though she feels ridiculous doing it. Beau considers flirting with Jules, smoldering at her the way Edythe does to him, but realizes he might be a little out of his depth, and then just acts like himself instead. They both get the outcome they're looking for.  Meyer just lets Beau be more of a human being--more true to himself--than she allows Bella to be. For what it's worth, I think this has more to do with Meyer's own developing maturity as a writer than with the dichotomy between female and male.
Though this isn't a comparative difference, can we take a second to talk about why Bella/Beau are so clumsy?  I mean, I kind of get it--they're supposed to attract trouble or something like that.  And, also, clumsiness is a real easy way to make your character flawed, but not flawed in a way that would make them less attractive.  But Bella/Beau can't even make it on a small hike without falling repeatedly?  I don't want to be a buzzkill, but it might be time to make an appointment with a doctor to get that inner ear checked.


Chapter 7: Nightmare

Summary:  Bella/Beau is real upset about the vampire story Jacob/Jules tells, and has a nightmare where Jacob/Jules turns into a wolf (foreshadowing!) and Edward/Edythe appear as evil vampires.  Bella/Beau wakes up knowing what she/he has to do, but avoids the dreaded internet search as long as possible.  However, nothing can be put off forever, and then . . . there's a very tense google search.  Bella/Beau learns about vampire legends from around the world, then, feeling foolish for even searching, she/he takes off for a walk in the woods. This is where Bella realizes that whether or not Edward's a vampire, she's still pretty into him.  Beau realizes the same thing.  So, that's it, apparently.  Bella/Beau is cool with Edward/Edythe being a vampire.
The next day is sunny, and Edward/Edythe is not at school, much to Bella/Beau's dismay. Bella/Beau makes plans to go to Port Angeles with friends the following day.

Analysis: Actually, this chapter gets interesting pretty quick.  Okay, so, in Twilight, when Bella sees Edward emerging from the trees in her nightmare, she says that his skin glows and his eyes are "black and dangerous".  In Beau's nightmare, Edythe is apparently going to the Oscars:
She wore a black dress.  It hung all the way down to the the ground but exposed her arms to the shoulders (sleeveless?  does she mean sleeveless?) and had a deep-cut V for a neckline.  Her skin was faintly glowing, and her eyes were flat black. . . Her nails were filed into sharp points and painted a red so dark they were almost as black as her dress.  Her lips were the same color. (102)
So, why?  Why the big descriptions for Edythe, but nothing for Edward.  Would I, as the reader, have wondered how Edythe looked if only her eyes had been described?  Is this kind of dramatic dress more reasonable for a female.  Would it have just seemed silly to have Edward emerge from the darkness in a tux? (answer: yes).  I mean, the difference is there.  We have to acknowledge it.  Whether Meyer had something in mind or she was just having fun playing with the image, we have to acknowledge that it makes a statement--and leaves questions--about our expectations of a "dangerous" woman.
There's more.
Bella and Beau both get annoyed with the internet search, or, annoyed with themselves or whatever, and go for a walk in the woods.  Beau follows the path, and that's the end of it.  Bella, however, insists on mentioning how hopeless her sense of direction is, and how easily she can get lost.  She's forever reminding the reader how helpless she is.
Then, as Bella and Beau both consider their course of action is Edward/Edythe is, in fact, a vampire, Bella considers staying away from Edward.  She thinks that she'll " . . . tell him to leave me alone--and mean it" (my emphasis).  Because, though she's said it before, she didn't mean it that time.  But, if she says it again, Edward will somehow know that this time she does mean it (my shudder of horror).
Then, as both Bella considers this option, she's " . . . gripped in a sudden agony of despair as I considered that alternative.  My mind rejected the pain, quickly skipping on the the next option."
Agony of despair?  Get a grip, Bella.
Beau--fortunate, fortunate Beau--also considers telling Edythe to leave him alone, "And it hurt--just the idea--more that it should.  More than I felt I could stand.  I switched gears, skipping on to the next option."
So, again, we have a more grounded Beau.  A protagonist less inclined to agonies of despair.  It hurts, and he says it hurts, but the language is more natural, and the character less hyperbolic.  Less ridiculous.  Less silly.  More human.  More relateable.
Lastly, Meyer appears intent portraying Bella as--what?  Poor, maybe?  Less fortunate?  I don't even know.  Maybe it's intended to throw Edward's economic privilege into sharp relief, but everything Bella owns is dust bowl-era threadbare, apparently: her shabby book, her ragged old quilt, her scruffy wallet.  What's the deal?
Anyway, Beau--though fictional--apparently benefits from Stephanie Meyer's post-Twilight affluence, because his belongings don't appear to have been handed down to him by a hobo passing through town.

Okay, next up . . . Port Angeles.  Someone almost gets assaulted!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Life and Death: A Critical Analysis of Twilight, Reimagined, Chapters 4 and 5


Chapter 4: Invitations

Synopsis:  It's the aftermath of the van lifting incident, and Edward/Edythe won't talk to Bella/Beau.  Bella/Beau gets asked repeatedly to the Spring Dance, and finally--finally--Edward/Edythe speaks to her/him.  Edward/Edythe warn Bella/Beau that they shouldn't be friends, then, the following day, asks her/him to roadtrip to Seattle.

Analysis:  This chapter is a lot about the dynamics between Bella's and Beau's friends, and I thought Meyer did a pretty deft job of maintaining similar dynamics even with the gender swap.  Which really shouldn't surprise me, but still kind of does.  Bella's relationship with Jessica is kind of thorny because of Mike, and I don't know if I would have assumed it would be easy to replicate that dynamic between two guys.  And she doesn't, exactly, but she does create the same kind of tension--that both Bella and Beau feel the same concern for Jessica and Jeremy, and yet the contradictory guilt about disappointing Mike and McKayla.  It's not like she split the atom or anything here, but, still, it's worth noting.
Also worth noting is the fact that Beau seems to be a way more logical character than Bella is.  When he's making those damned chicken enchiladas and wondering why Edythe said they shouldn't be friends, he decides it's because she knows he's obsessed with her and doesn't want to encourage him. Then he thinks:
I was boring--I knew this about myself.  And Edythe was the opposite of boring.  This wasn't about her secret, whatever it was, if I even remembered any of that insane moment clearly.  At this point, I almost believed the story I'd told everyone else.  It made a lot more sense than what I thought I'd seen.
But she didn't need a secret to be out of my league.  She was brilliant and mysterious and beautiful and completely perfect.  If she was, in fact, able to lift a full-sized van with one hand, it didn't really matter.  Either way she was fantasy and I was the very most mundane kind of reality (61).
The way he arrives at his conclusion, even questioning the impossibility of what he saw, seems understandable, relateable.  It just seems real.
Add this: when Edward admits to Bella that he held her up in the parking lot to give Tyler a chance to ask her to the dance, Bella gets mad, but doesn't question how Edward could have known that's what happened.  Beau, on the other hand, does wonder that, and reasonably so.  I mean, Edythe was a car ahead, possibly with windows closed, and the roar of the truck is super loud (as we're repeatedly told), so, Beau is right to wonder how Edythe knew.
I assume this is just a matter of Meyer looking back and noticing holes in her own logic, but, it ends up doing the same thing, which is making Beau seem like a much smarter character than Bella.
Finally, she changed Twilight's squish (For not letting that stupid van squish me) to the much improved L&D's crush (For not letting Taylor's van crush me when it had the chance).  Thank goodness.  Squish?  Why?  How?  For what purpose?


Chapter 5: Blood Type

Synopsis:  Edward/Edythe and Bella/Beau spend lunch together, then Bella/Beau goes to Biology where she/he nearly passes out during blood typing.  On the way to the nurses office Edward/Edythe swoops in and carries Bella/Beau to the office, then drives her/him home.

Analysis:  So, this was the first incident I was like, I wonder how she'll handle this.  And, the answer was: in the exact same way.  True, Edythe doesn't technically carry Beau to the office, but, essentially.  Which is okay, I mean, Edythe is really strong.  It feels fine that Beau gets woozy; I actually thought he was way funnier about it than Bella.  I think Beau just seems to take himself less seriously than she does.
So, that's all fine.  But, then they walk out to the parking lot, and Edward/Edythe wants to drive Bella/Beau home, and it's the first time that Edward/Edythe gets kind of bossy, and, I'll tell you, it's a lot easier to read the scene in Life and Death.  I re-read the chapter in Twilight, and, yeah, it reads weird.  Like, Edward's holding onto Bella's coat, dragging her to his car, and she tells him--insists-- that he let her go, and he ignores her, and that's kind of weird.  There's no two ways about it: there is a lot of noise out there about how predatory Bella and Edward's relationship is, and that kind of "no means yes" nonsense doesn't help anything.  It just reads easier when Edythe's "little hand" grabs a fistful of Beau's jacket.
Which, again, makes me think, is that me?  Is that my cultural baggage that's making it feel like Beau has a choice in the situation but Bella does not?  I mean, Beau kind of breaks it down: while he knows Edythe is strong, he also knows that he's bigger than she is, taller, same age, and I think there's a confidence implicit in that.
The fact of the matter is, whether Edward has super-strength or not, he's stronger than Bella, he can--and does--physically dominate her, which is maybe what makes their interaction feel a little more sinister.
Also, there's something about Bella--and I realized I felt like this the first time I read Twilight, years ago, so I know it's not just in comparison to L&D, but she doesn't feel particularly mature.  Maybe it's the way she's always pouting or puckering her eyebrows or something, but she just reads really young.  So when Edward tells her she doesn't seem seventeen, I'm like, really?  But, when Edythe says the same thing to Beau, I kind of get where she's coming from.  He does seem more mature.  He seems more grounded, less likely to describe himself as helpless.
It makes me wonder how much of this change is due to the growth that can happen to a writer in ten years, and how much is due to Meyer seeing Bella interpreted by other people--Melissa Rosenberg and Kristen Steward in particular--who both seemed to see Bella as far more grounded and competent.
Also, I was for sure not expecting this, but L&D is occasionally kind of funny.  I was caught off-guard and nearly laughed during the scene in the parking lot.  Who saw that coming?  Not me.