Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Short-Lived Career As An Art Critic

"What's that a picture of? Is it a house? A hugely oversized eyeball? Is it our family on swings at the playground at dusk? What the hell is it?"

"Mom," they say, "why does it always have to be something?"

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


When my father was a graduate student he became friends with Denanjay from Bombay, now Mumbai, and a fellow graduate student. When my sister was born, Jay became her godfather, and when Jay returned to India, he took being her godfather in the correct manner: that he should avoid spiritual prattle, and instead provide exotic presents.

I was green with envy. My godmother lived in France, or so my parents told me, as a way of explaining her hands-off approach.

One of the presents Jay sent was a garland of exquisitely crafted sandalwood roses. Each rose so paper thin you could hardly believe it. I marveled. It was a thing so fragrant that it perfumed the linen in the linen closet where my mother hung it, for safekeeping. As in, away from Elizabeth.

Because it did not belong to me, and because my sister didn't seem to see the extreme value of it, the more I wanted it. I would go into the linen closet and think of elephants, and dream that my godmother was from India, too. Claude, whom I met years later, was extremely stylish, and warm, and scented with Paris, and that made up for a lot. But still, sandalwood.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Etiquette, EtiKIDette

My mother tells the story of when my sister and I went for the first time to the University Club, my grandparents' formal supper club in Pittsburgh, when we were five and eight.

We didn't know what forks to use for our salads of endive and walnut, and, worse, we skirmished around the potted palms, in our patent leather shoes, giving each other sparks. Little barbarians. I remember it being fun. I remember the ladies' "powder room" that had what my grandmother called "a divan." "Funny bone" was another word my grandmother used.

My mother, burning with embarrassment, leashed and took us home, and coached us for the next twenty years in fish forks and water goblets. A viscountess couldn't more politely spear an asparagus. But when it is necessary?

We don't "dine," we snarf, inhale, snorffle, vacuum, and in ten minutes whatever was on the table is in our cells, fueling.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pagan. Period.

I'm a lapsed high-church Episcopalian of Russian Polish German Jewish heritage, on my mother's side, back when that land changed hands, and on my father's side, Scots-Irish, raised on the moors to eat porridge, related to the "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God" Puritan Jonathan Edwards.

As a child in Costa Rica, my husband was born Catholic, but this mother thought that through, found it lacking, and became Jehovah's Witness. His religion now is soccer. With a side of French bread. The man really loves his baguette. The staff of life, I say. But he finds that too Biblical; he is rather crunchy.

What on earth to raise the kids? I say Earth worshipping, foragers, with a streak of literacy, and a love of kindness like the Dali Lama, and like the Sufi mystics, an urge to whirl.

I'll light some incense for that, get a pet sacred cow, put a fire on the hearth, like Hestia, Greek goddess of the hearth for whom I have a special fondness. She sat apart from her brothers and sister Olympians, and focused on the rotating spit, and made mean S'mores.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sugar: The Opiate Of My People

The scientific research is in: sugar has the same effect on brain chemistry as cocaine. It is as addictive as heroin. We're a nation of fat addicts. So what am I doing laying out a plate of cookies for my after-school children? I should be putting out a syringe.

I was overweight as a child. My mother as a child was overweight. My mother's mother was overweight. We were all called chunky or chubby or soft or plump; these words were semi-kind. In high school I worked in a bakery called Waldorf's, making cheese danish. Those halcyon days! Before anyone knew better about black and white frosted cookies, how they are, basically, death.

What should one eat? Michael Pollan's pithy "Not too much. Mostly plants," is not helpful. What I need is a shopping list and a rigid Victorian nanny.

I know there is such a thing called "food" but where is that in my pantry? "Food" requires making it, requires thinking, and time, in a way that a Snickers bar does not. I don't even like Snickers. But that's what I mean: Big Sugar is as effective at brand creation as is Big Pharma, and their products are easier to say and more delicious. Zyrtec is hard. A candy company would kick Cymbalta to the curb. Mallomar. Doesn't that sound better, mellow?

I can rattle off the names of candy bars but I cannot rattle off the names of heirloom beets and I don't mean to make Alice Waters weep. I'm just an average American mom who wants her kids to eat, to "Ess!" as my grandmother would say, pressing another serving of strudel on us all.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lord of The Bee Dance

I want to talk about dancing.

How at parties I've put on music, danceable, and people continue to talk. I've turned the music up, and people respond by talking louder and then I turn the music up louder still and people begin to shout as if they are at a 20-something bar. It occurs to nobody to begin to move, but to yell.

When I was in Venezuela years ago, visiting a then boyfriend, at every single party everybody danced. Therefore, I danced, because there was no one to talk to, or shout at. They were all on the dance floor, even the very old, and the seemingly frail, even my boyfriend's very pregnant cousin, wearing, si, a leopard print catsuit.

I've started to dance more now that I have children. Because they don't know what's impossible. (Por ejemplo: Leopard print catsuits.)

Children can respond to music however they like. My son has a dance that is uniquely his and he's been doing it since he could stand. It is a waggle bee dance, I think. He sticks out his butt, waggles it as if a bee signifying where the pollen is, three miles away, in the cornflower. Then he makes little circles and flaps his arms.

Is it art? I don't know. But it is a response to life: wail in, dance out.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


When I am writing and my son comes over and asks, "What are you doing Mommy?" I say, "I am writing a story."

And, incredulous, he asks,"You have a story?" as if he is saying, "Mommy is good only for pouring my milk, and occasionally for helping me get going on my bike."

As if it's a lie.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Invocation of The Muses

Sing Muses

of the anxious suburban mom would be your servant for NaNoWriMo. Let her words and her chipped fingernail polish be meet and right in thy sight.

Let her herniated cervical disc be as a 20-year-old, plump, nourished and bouncy and not painful as she writes, hunched over late at night after the children have gone to bed, and her husband too.

The disc, it has been painful. For the pain she has received several spinal blocks. There appears to be no god of herniated cervical discs though one thinks of Shiva, destroyer of worlds, Muses, could you introduce her? Like if you know Shiva, like if you know if he wants a sacrifice of 19th century British novels to make the pain go away and to restore her to health so that she may continue to read 19th-century British novels in bed without her hands going numb?

That would be a great. And not such a sacrifice.

She is your humble servant, but no so humble that she doesn't have aspirations to write 50,000 words in one month. Laugh not Muses. You extend your favors to heros with chutzpah and she would rather than the laundry, the dishes, and the six-year-old's homework, do this.