Okay, gave the roasting items another stir, so time for another quick post. I tricked my husband into seeing the cultural touchstone that is Twilight for our date night. Hey, I admit it: I’m full-on too, too old to have read these books, but read them I did. Well, “read” may be too mild a word, I was a Twilight tweaker! I was afraid the movie would really be terrible, but it wasn’t. My husband’s great compliment, “It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.” My concern went in another direction. One of the great lures of the books is how completely adolescent they are. We all like to look back and think of ourselves as young women with a purpose, little proto-feminists. Right. Most of us were just walking, stammering nerve-endings whose every interaction with the world was so painfully small in its emotional enormity. We wanted to be invisible yet showered with adoration and accolades. We moved in hurricanes of feelings that waged destruction and fed on themselves. Twilight is Titanic with a lower budget, less CGI, and no sinking ship–everything is all high stakes, all the time, and nothing about the relationships makes sense. But, of course, this makes perfect sense . . . or should I invoke Austen and say that it makes “sensibility.” I thought Catherine Hardwicke’s choice to foreground close-up whenever possible was perfect: the tight focus encourages heady devotion by foreclosing any perspective. Ah, youth. Earlier last week, we had a conference with our daughter’s teachers (first grade). She runs with a small group of girls that have been together for three years. I told one of her teachers that she was about to enter the years when groups of girls oscillate between being “a host of angels and a nest of vipers.” She leaned back a bit, smiled, laughed, and said, “So true.” The Twilight books have really rubbed some feminists the wrong way, and I wonder if part of this isn’t just the grown-up woman’s wish that she wasn’t once a young girl fighting (to paraphrase Wilson) such big battles over such small stakes. I’d rather remember that we somehow got through those romantic wars, and now that we’re on the other side, we can look back wisely, with Mona Lisa grins of secret knowledge won at great cost and great reward.
While I wait for my butternut squash soup ingredients to roast, I thought I’d quickly blog about the absolute best style blog ever: the Sartorialist. It’s just photos–photos of the most quirkily fashionable folks on the street you’d ever imagine. Every great once in a while, when I give myself the once over in the mirror in the morning, I think, “Why, this outfit is Sartorialist-worthy.” And, it brings me great joy. Last Friday, one of my AVPs commented on my kicky ensemble, and I quickly replied, “I was just thinking that if I had yellow pumps, this could have made the Sartorialist.” He was, of course, baffled, but I knew. And smiled!
When I was a little girl, my father always gave my sister and me the money to put in the Salvation Army bucket or to buy the VFW poppy or to fill the offering plate. Even though we didn’t have much (once we had to pack all our belongings into my grandma’s garage and bunk with her for a while), he made sure we understood that others had even less. As I grew older, my family grew upper middle-classier, and the lessons of my childhood stuck with me.
Of course, my children are spoiled. Like most overworking parents I know, I compensate for lost time with purchased stuff–and cool vacations. This isn’t to say they don’t also get time, but they really make out with the stuff–and the vacations. I was 13 before I spent a night in a hotel. I was 15 before I took a plane flight. My children are both under 7 and have been on planes since infancy, know what room service and valet parking are (and that mommy does and daddy doesn’t on both counts), and have spent time in some of America’s fun-est cities.
But, they also know that not everyone has what they have (and that some will always have more). At holidays, I rehearse my father’s lessons, and my kids beat the path to the Salvation Army kettle, pick out gifts for Guardian ad Litem, and select their favorite books for at risk children. Just yesterday, my son and I bought a tree with all the trimmings to put on display at my college and then be donated to a needy local family. He made sure I bought the biggest box of ornaments with the ones that looked like “disco balls” (cue his in-aisle John Travolta channeled by Troy Bolton dance here) because they were the “happiest” and personally picked the Santa-themed tree skirt because it was “so cute.” Of course, somehow he also weedled a nutcracker for himself out of the deal, but it seems a small price to pay for his generous heart.
During the election, my first grade daughter came home to say that one of her third grade afterschool friends was supporting John McCain because “Obama would take all the money from people who earned it and give it to poor people and that was bad.” She firmly disagreed, noting that “poor people need money, too,” so she would be supporting Barack Obama. (My daughter also told me today that girls can marry girls, but they don’t do so as often as girls marry boys. Clearly, a demographer in the making!)
It’s amazing how quickly and easily life’s enduring lessons pass between parents and children. So, ring those holiday season bells, it’s time to get our noblesse oblige on!
Now that the election is over, I’m moving this blog in a new direction–hence the new tag-line above. Let me explain . . .
Shortly after 9/11, my husband and I visited NYC. Our purpose . . . to see Bjork at Radio City Music Hall. At the time, I was about 6 months pregnant. Whenever we go to New York, I have a fairly pedestrian repeat “to do” list that revolves, as with so much in my life, around food. Things like getting Ollie’s take-out and H&H bagels. Another item on my list is eating oatmeal pancakes with chicken sausage at Sarabeth’s before walking over to the AMNH. So, it came to pass that one morning we were doing just that. My husband had gone to see Ground Zero the day before, but I had passed and stayed in our room with Braxton-Hicks (and, of course, ordered room service). Honestly, it was my concern with air quality: would it be good for our baby to breathe in concrete and . . . . At breakfast, my husband (a history major, among other things) turned his video camera on me, asking how I could miss this monumental event in American history. Finishing my delicious bite of oatmeal pancake, I said, “Well, I care about what I care about. It makes my life pretty straightforward.” Hence, the point of this blog.
Since I became a mom (twice) in the last six years, if I were to draw a pie chart of “what I care about,” my children would be crowding most everything but my husband and my work. I think that’s as it should be. I became a mom late in life, and–as I told a friend at the time–I had been the center of my universe long enough, it was someone else’s star turn.
I’m away from my family more than I’d like for meetings and conferences. I’m not a road warrior, like those sad folks who crowd into airports blathering intensely on their cell phones about networking solutions, enterprise systems, and CRM fixes. But, I travel often enough to make it through security sometimes without even realizing I’ve removed my jewelry and yanked out my laptop until I’m on the other side putting it back on and stowing it away. Sometimes my family comes with, but most times they don’t.
I can fall asleep on a plane with disconcerting ease–sometimes even before take-off if I’m not feeling well or develop an immediate antipathy to my rowmates. But, I once read that airplanes are most likely to crash on take-off and landing, so I’m usually awake until after we’re in the air. As we take-off, I conjure up images of my children. I see my daughter falling to sleep as I read By the Banks of Plum Creek: her body slightly twitching, her long eyelashes fluttering, her breathing slowing. I see my son smiling up at me from another triumphant Lego masterpiece that perfectly marries design and function so that Luke Skywalker can save some bizarre planet or Indiana Jones can again encounter his dreaded snakes (man, those things are everywhere!). I see the two of them with their father, joyfully beating him senseless with pillows and jumping on him in a never-successful attempt to break his spine (and sanity) while he calmly holds the Nation at arm’s length, reading Katrina Vanden Heuvel decry something important. I see my husband’s secret “can you believe them” smile when they develop their Halloween-themed “Boo!” Ya chest bump or decorate their rooms ever-so-carefully with random Webkinz, action figures, cast-off bits of playsets, and drawings in a manner worthy of the next DesignStar.
When pressed, when fearing the death that could (fingers crossed) release me from being squeezed between the large person in 20D and the crazy smoker in 20F for the next 3-4 hours, this is what I think about. This is what I care about.
This is what this blog will be about as it now takes-off.
I was in Phoenix on election day. I flew in for a meeting that ran most of the week and went to dinner with friends on election night. I was the designated vote-checker and kept pulling out my iPhone throughout the meal to see which state had gone which way. Our table represented Florida, Iowa, Arizona, Ohio, and Oregon–so we had a nice cross-section of the “real” America. After dinner, we ran up to the hospitality room to meet others and watch the election results. As the time neared to declare Obama the winner, I had to excuse myself to go up to my room. I told everyone it was the result of jet lag. But, I barely made it to the elevator before I started crying. I couldn’t believe Obama was really, truly going to do it. I did things this election I’d never done before: I phone banked, I canvassed, I donated (probably more than I should). I obsessively read the Huffington Post and Politico. Back in my room, I stood in front of the tv, unable to move (despite many waters and diet cokes), thinking I might jinx something, might break the spell. When the little check went up beside his name as the projected winner, I finally allowed myself a bathroom run, grabbed a handful of tissues, and broke out bawling. I had actually helped elect a president, my president, our president.
The weather in Phoenix was perfect, as was John McCain’s concession speech. He stood in the cool, crisp night just blocks from my room and spoke with civility and graciousness. He was an honorable man who somehow came to believe that the ends justified the means (which were quite mean, indeed). They don’t; they never do. I would like to believe that his vice presidential pick learned this lesson during the campaign, but I don’t.
Tissues in hand, I watched the celebratory crowd gather in Grant Park, against the beautiful Chicago skyline, and saw the glittering towers that my daughter, then three, once observed were the castle of “Cheney the Greedy Fat Cat.” That night, they were the castle of Camelot–or perhaps a revisionist Cinderella. I so wished I were there, in one of my favorite cities, shouting for the first candidate who made me want to fight for my beliefs.
On the long flight to Phoenix that day, I read Sarah Vowell’s passionate, quirky, and lovely The Wordy Shipmates. In her evocation of America’s Puritan beginnings and the Kinsu-sharp dual-edged sword they crafted, I felt her love for America the Promise, the Potential, so rarely realized and so desperately desired. Much of her book centers on John Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” with its evocation of the “city on hill” that figures so readily and often wrongly in political rhetoric: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.” To begin my long Tuesday reading Vowell’s book and end it, tear streamed, watching a park upon a lake with the eyes of all people upon it was a remarkable experience.
On the trip home, I read–from cover to cover–the special Newsweek devoted to the election. I was drawn by the cover, the smiling visage of our new hope. Somewhere in these pages, a writer observes that he was suddenly struck by the thought that his young daughter would grow up believing, assuming, that women and African-Americans had always been able to be president. There, on the plane, in the unfortunate middle seat between a woman afraid of flying and a young navy officer on leave, I teared up again.
Sometimes the better rather than the lesser angels of our Puritan past sweep into the room and clear out the cobwebs of despair. Winthrop wrote in his sermon, “we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. . . . We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body.” Or, as was recently summarized quite succinctly, “Yes, We Can.”
Okay, what gives? First, BillO calls out the McCain camp for its ridiculous lipstick non-event. Then, the View from a Bridge ladies rake McCain over the coals. Next, Karl’s Jr., d/b/a “the pot,” says McCain, d/b/a “the kettle,” has crossed the line beyond the 100% truth test. And, now a Fox anchor is caught asking McCain flack-in-chief Tucker Bounds honest to goodness real questions about the honesty of his boss’s ads–and refuses to back down to his crosstalk and red herringbones.
Um . . . what?
Is the Right souring on its ideological meal ticket? Is it about to eat its young . . . and old?
The timing of this slow slide away, if that’s what it turns out to be, is intriguing in light of the current market free fall. Perhaps there is a higher power at play here (hint, it looks like this: $ ). It’s great to be pro-life and surge-y and stuff, but what if it’s still all about the cheddar? Economic disasters make strange bedfellows (just ask the folks at Merrill Lynch).
It will be intriguing to see how this pans out.
Day after day, more about McCain/Palin’s flat-out lies, lack of meaningful qualifications, and mean-spirited tactics are revealed, and day after day, one clear, shining truth becomes more and more apparent: it doesn’t matter a lick to those who are going to vote for the ticket. They’ve drunk the proverbial kool-aid, and only too late will they realize that their reformers have led them into the jungle of no return. So, this made me think of the “orange from television.”
Our children’s godfather, who is a working actor, once posited that–given the machinery that is show business–an orange could become a star. I’ve now come to believe that, with the right spin, an orange could indeed become president. Here’s a sample orange stump speech:
There are those that scoff at my candidacy. From their ivory towers and cosmopolitan cities, they don’t believe in the values I embody–the values that made this country great. No, I’m not some exotic species. I come from solid, American stock. My values are found in America’s rural past: when families invested of themselves in the land, when generation taught generation, when goodness wasn’t an object of ridicule. It drove markets, it had value! I thrive in the daylight, in the warmth of the sun, not in the nightlife of insiders making deals in the dark. My opponents say I do not have the foreign affairs experience necessary to run this country. I say, this country is for Americans. I represent American interests. I will protect our businesses by keeping out unfair competition. From my personal experience in California and Florida, I know how quickly our fields can be overrun by cheap migrant labor driving out hardworking Americans. I know how inferior product can breach our borders, how this product can lay waste to entire industries and sicken our children. And, this, my fellow Americans, is what I care about the most: our children’s future. My opponents may be looking outside of this great country for solutions. I am not and will not. Each morning, I sit at the breakfast table with millions of children as they begin their day. I value every moment of the lives of these children. Each child, whether in a mansion or a school cafeteria, deserves opportunity. We cannot buy this opportunity from China, from Russia, from South America, from the Middle East–no matter what my opponents say. If my belief in America’s children makes me too small town, too inexperienced for my opponents, then I wear that label proudly. I dedicate myself this day–as every day–to the health and well being of America’s families. I am honored to exemplify the simple, well-rounded values of this great country. I have grown in its rich soil and reached up through the years to the nourishment of its God-given light. If you are looking for intellectualism, if you are looking for candidates who took the same-old insider path to the White House, I am not your candidate. But, if you are sick of business as usual, if you cannot stomach another year of beltway politics, I am asking for your vote. Vote for orange–the bRIGHT alternative.
Scary, isn’t it.
I’ve been processing my disgust with the Republican ticket in a manner best resembling the way one’s tongue keeps searching out the bits of stuck popcorn in one’s teeth. I don’t mean to keep (and keep and keep and keep) going back to the same jagged edges in the otherwise smooth surface, but I simply cannot help it. So, I’m placing this entry within that context . . . something’s that’s been bothering me for a while and I cannot help but return to over and over.
Look, I’m an honest, small town gal (for real!), so I’ll be up front: I hated Sarah Palin the moment I saw her. I’ve met so many Sarah Palins in my life: the scolding raised index finger waving away at you in a way almost designed to distort your field of vision so that you don’t see what’s really happening; the smile that’s too tight and wide and never reaches the eyes; the inappropriate wink designed to draw you into the parlor furnished with the bones of former conquests. All of them the same: bright, distractingly attractive confections whose high fructose corn syrup and lard icings leave a terribly numbing taste and hide dry, tasteless interiors whose consumption immediately fills you with regret. It all reminds me of a line from a Replacements song: “You like the frosting? Well, you just bought the cake.” Well, thanks, but no thanks (hey where have I heard that before?).
So, a big Pasadena on Sarah. But, that’s not what’s nagging me. It’s old, seriously I mean OLD, John. During the Democratic convention, much hay was made comparing Obama’s speech to that of old, seriously I mean OLD, Michael Douglas in the American President. I won’t summarize the American President, as if you haven’t seen it, you must not get basic cable–which likely means you cannot afford Internet access to read this blog anyway. It’s a cute movie, though I always thought that the lighting in some of Annette Bening’s scenes was a bit harsh.
So, anyway, no one seemed to think of a comparable film for John McCain’s speech, but I immediately did. And that’s what’s bothering me. It’s actually one of my favorite movies of all time. A story of a blindly ambitious man whose unswerving competition and drive for power no matter the cost to his very soul eventually rots him from the inside. There Will Be Blood. As John McCain, hugger of Bush and maverick signer-off-on the most conservative and repressive platform in the history of Republican-y things, stood in Minneapolis and mouthed every pathetic and mean ideological position possible, I was reminded of the scene in TWBB when Daniel appears in Eli’s church. He says exactly what Eli wants, takes it into his very fiber and delivers on cue, so he can get what he wants. Which is . . . more, more, more and all, all, all. Why? Who can say, we only know that he has a sense of competition in him that he seems incapable of controlling. (A nice observation embedded in the film is that this very sense of competition made America and then had no where to turn but on itself.) Only at the very end of the film, when he has destroyed all he has created is Daniel “finished.” Watch the movie again and then reflect on McCain’s video montage story and his convention speech. See what I mean?
I’ll also allow that I find much of Eli in lil’ hometown Sarah: the moonfaced, unblinking believer whose innocent facade hides boundless ambition looking for the right wagon to carry it to salvation–but not enough intelligence to see that god’s instrument is still always just a tool.
There Will Be Blood–like so many works of art–is a cautionary tale. I don’t believe PT Anderson (or Sinclair Lewis) felt that he was crafting an inspirational portrait in courage. Rather, this is the story of how easily unchecked competition begets conflagration. We are to see our lesser angels in such works–not our better, lest we, too, get burned.
When I look at the Republican ticket, I actually don’t see more of the same. Naked corporate greed dressed up with flag pins is something to which we’ve all grown accustomed. In the McCain/Palin ticket to the Iditarod to hell, I see something far more frightening: delusions of righteous purity bought at the expense of hope and humanity. As with many fall films, it deserves to be recognized for what it is: a dark script brought to life by well-directed academy-level performances. And, like these films, I’m hoping it won’t bring in boffo box office.