Sunday, January 26, 2014

“Oh, bummer! The murderer? It was me all along.”

 (The quotes below are taken randomly from my favorite book.  Is this shameless marketing?  Yes.

My life is like food I have purchased that clearly says, ‘refrigerate after opening,’ and I keep glancing at it on the shelf and think, ‘oh yeah, I really should refrigerate that.’

     You have only to remember Willa Cather’s My Mortal Enemy where there’s a realization at the end of life that the person you’ve been living with is your mortal enemy.   And suppose the person is you?  Of course it’s you.  Now that I think about it, it has to be you.  That’s why you have to take care of these things while you still have a chance.  You don’t want your dying words to be, “Oh, bummer! The murderer?   It was me all along.”

     I was no better than The Manchurian Candidate when I got married.  I had a chip inside me that was like a homing missile.I think I had no sense of safety.  Yes, I’m sure that’s it.  Back then, women had no sense of safety unless they were married. 

     I looked for my old thought catalogue: this house is falling apart I can’t stop eating Katie Couric looked good on The View. I haven’t been outdoors in two days the lawn needs cutting the big tree in back is going to fall over and kill me where is my hairbrush I’m afraid of taking Tylenol p.m. because I might not wake up my feet still look good the gutters are filled and there’s no one stable enough to climb a ladder and get them out I can't stop looking at J.Lo I need a manicure and a pedicure my eyebrows need shaping the ground turkey that is a staple has been recalled but I already ate it I love Alec Baldwin why did I think I could manage my own brokerage account if I thought about the money I’ve lost, it would make me pass out and why did I sell the New York apartment so soon when now it’s worth five times more the rich guy next door has the loudest air conditioner I’ve ever heard and it runs 24/7 he waters his lawn so much there’s a perennial puddle in front of my house where mosquitoes are breeding by the millions but I am annoying the neighbor on the other side with my huge tree that sheds leaves and other debris all summer long and keeps his driveway filled with stuff and oh, the kids.

      I have given up on too much. I have said “okay” to the absence of nurturing work and real intimacy and a reliance on love as a hub of life.

     While I’m talking about scent assaults, I may as well call your attention to the soap Lever 2000.  I went up to my second floor one day because I smelled the overpowering scent of cheap perfume mixed with stale sweat.  I thought a cologne-crazed robber might be hiding up there.  The smell was suffocating and it was coming from an unwrapped bar of Lever 2000.  I began to feel nauseous and had to take it far out of the house and throw it away.  I would vote for any candidate that would outlaw perfumed soaps, shampoos or anything else.  Thank god for scent-free All.

At the check out, the woman in front of me had every item I would never buy and yet I wished I knew her.
What kind of person buys this at Walmart:  individual packets of Whiskas, Shout Out, Pringles, Devil Dogs and miniature-sized lemon-scented S.O.S. pads. If you’re picturing overweight and slovenly, forget it.   She was thin as a rail and neat as a pin. I knew this much about her:  she doted on her cat, she could tolerate fake scents, she took her snacks seriously and she didn’t need Real Simple Magazine to give her any bs ‘aha’ ways to get stains out. This woman had chosen everything in her basket with a purpose and knew exactly what she was going to do with each item whereas my purchases were random and impulse driven.   I wanted to ask her  what was the worst stain she had dissolved with Shout Out and if the miniature S.O.S. pads were a better value.   What came to mind as I waited for her to pay was how appropriate it was for Spiro Agnew to have called us  “an effete corps of impudent snobs” to characterize the East Coast intellectual voting block. This woman (who might be a Harvard-educated neuroscientist for all I know) was exactly why people like my friend Delores seldom got their candidate elected.  She represented the whole big other section of American life and it’s their America, too.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The triumph of imagination over intelligence

The other day I was looking for a pair of shoes I hadn’t thought of in five years and stumbled on a huge stack of fabric yardage that I hadn’t thought of in eleven years. 

By stack I mean a Kansas wheat silo tall column.  

only fabric inside
Wow, I thought this good fabric could help me reinvent my house.  When I say re-invent, I don’t mean it would turn my house into a thoroughbred horse but it would help my abode look almost as elegant and promising.
Dimly I remember that I had the very same thought when I stashed the fabric in this attic closet for safekeeping as if the huns were paying a visit to East Hampton to take it away from me.
I'm coming for the fabric
I chose a large roll of black and white plaid seersucker and decided to slipcover my yard sale one-and-a-half chair.  Do I know how to sew a slipcover?  Sort of if sort of means I’ve never done it but I saw some pictures in a book written in 1964 and put out by The Singer Sewing Machine company titled “How To Make A Slipcover.”

This is the place where I use the word counterintuitive which means something is exactly the opposite of what your good sense is telling you because as I read through this little book, no more than a pamphlet, I find that you have to pin everything on the furniture inside out and when you sew it inside out you also have to include something called piping that is made ahead of time out of yet another gazillion yards of fabric (cut on the bias and stitched together to make a mile or two of this piping.) When you invert the finished product this piping is acting as a sturdy border around every seam.
you need about a mile of piping
 The next thing I learn about making a slipcover is that even if you only have a 12 inch footstool to cover it takes a gazillion yards to cut the pattern especially if the fabric also has a pattern and has to be matched.  
fabric matching at a very high level (not mine)
This is the point in the project where my left brain is saying “Perhaps on your first try you should choose a solid color because matching the pattern on a curved back chair might be a tad beyond your ability.” My right brain is picturing a garden with everything in bloom and lots of ceramic lawn mushrooms sheltering bunnies and squirrels.  My right brain is seeing childlike happiness.

Really, need I continue with this post?  Will Jesus turn my ten yards of plaid seersucker into a well-fitting pattern-matched slipcover with perfect piping all around the way he turned water into superb wine at the wedding feast at Cana? What do you think?  What Oscar Wilde said about marriage can apply to this project: the triumph of imagination over intelligence. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

An heiress and her slave in Charleston, circa 1800.

(Viking/Penguin offered me The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, an Oprah book club selection for review)

I grew up in Washington, D.C. still very much a southern town in my early childhood.  I remember accompanying my beloved Corinne Griffith (who worked for my family) to her segregated part of the beach because I preferred her company. Even then as a tiny girl, I felt the risk of defying convention. I brought those memories with me to read this story of Sarah and Hetty - an heiress and her slave in the city of Charleston, South Carolina in the early 1800’s.

The book is an expertly researched fictionalized version of the life of Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina, who rebuffed their upbringing and religion to become notorious as the first female abolitionists speaking and writing in favor of liberty and equality not only for slaves but for women.

Where the novel diverges from the true story is, for me, it’s heart.  Here the story is of two girls and two families.  Sarah’s family, powerful and wealthy withdraw any support for her realization and ridicule her ambitions. Hetty’s mother, with neither power or funds to support her, instills a grim strength in Hetty to never succumb to captivity or part with one iota of herself.

This is an emotional book filled with symbols and spirits and outcomes that make the reader weep. Ms. Kidd shows us what has to be the truth of owning another human being - the fear of losing the power leaches all humanity out of the owners and allows them to rule with blind cruelty. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The United Overstates of America

(This is a re-issue of a post titled "Thank You So Much."  It's resolution making time.  I thought we might revisit the land of "so much.")

Everybody does it.  Prince William did it when he was out in California with Kate. “Thank you so much,” he said in his fabulous British voice.  Even with that upper crust delivery I was disappointed that he, the standard bearer of all things subdued and traditional, had to add ‘so much.’  He had me at “thank you” and then lost me at “so much.”

‘You’re welcome’ is a perfect response but frequently I see the word ‘most’ squeezing through to leach some solidity out of ‘welcome.’ The physical equivalent is if someone takes your hand in both of theirs and squeezes it as if they are wringing out a washcloth instead of using a regular handshake.

The United States of America is now the United Overstates of America. Why?  Oh, wait, I know.  We overstate to cover up for lack of emotion and real engagement.  How do we really feel about anything?  We don’t know how we really feel and does it even matter?

We say: “Your guacamole is awesome.”
We mean, “I can’t get excited about anything you do but I don’t want you to dislike me.” 
We say: “That dress looks amazing. “
We mean: “Who cares how you look but if I don’t quell your insecurity, we’ll be here all day.”

"I worked my ass off" and "I was blown away," would both, if true, have terrible consequences and do not elicit the approval you are seeking.

Drew Barrymore was and is appealing.  She stood on David Letterman’s desk, pulled up her sweater and flashed him for his birthday. But sweet Drew led us down a wrong path when every third word out of her mouth is ‘amazing,’ or ‘awesome’.  Thanks to Drew and her ilk, many perfectly good words have been downgraded in the tsunami of “this rocks,” and “you rock.”

A “thank you” without frills means:  "I've proven that I'm polite,  now leave me alone.”
Nice means bland and boring
Good means tolerable or it is used like a period to end a conversation.
Pretty means “I've given the opinion you are after now let's move on.”
Pleasant means "In my present and future this (event, person) is invisible."
Satisfactory means “This is disappointing but what else is new?”

“Good morning” still means “Good morning.”  Let’s leave it that way.