Saturday, April 30, 2016

Weasel of the Sea

 It ain't me you're looking for, bruv. I did not shut down physics.

Sea weasels.  These are the sea otters (above).

A weasel of the land is what shut down CERN, the large hadron collider, a few days ago. Listen to the story and you can hear the laughter in their NPR voices. They are trying to keep it together, but you try saying "weasel" by itself with a straight face, and then you try adding "chewed through an electrical cord" and, "it shut the place down."  (It's hard.)

Sea otters are not chewing through electrical cords; on the other hand, they are troublemakers for fishermen, since they're after the same abalone. 

The abalone in question.

Most of us not being fishermen, and after abalone, we can be fans of the weasels of the sea, the sea otters who chew through nothing, no cords, but sea urchins (and clams and abalone.) 

We can purchase the Pokemon, and the stuffed plushy sea otter toys as we exit through the gift shop at the aquarium. Sea otters are the most; they werk, they give furry playful definition to the phrase "charismatic megafauna."

Sea otter babies float like corks (of fur.) Not to anthropomorphize them too much, but they appear to frolic. They cavort. They use their underbellies as dinner plates.  

They're like your favorite out-there cousin who is always doing something cooler and more wangdangdoodle than you like wrapping themselves up in a frond of kelp --- or going to an underwater sculpture garden because they can. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Anthropomorphizing Animals

This is not about how to prepare a fish that contains a neurotoxin that could stop your heart (the Japanese specialty fugu) this isn't about you, and your sushi bucket list, it's about anthropomorphizing animals.  We do it all the time. 

Look at the pufferfish photo (above) from The Guardian. Answer this question: Is this pufferfish:  a) bloated? b) gassy? or c) neither bloated nor gassy but sincerely doing its pufferfish thing; its motivations and desires are wholly unknown to us.

The answer is c.  It's we who are bloated and gassy. 

But how we love to gaze into the limpid pools of other animals' eyes like the eyes of scallops: 

and see our own reflection. We are in love with our image like the Greek teaching story of Narcissus. 

We need to do this less: Inky octopus wanted "freedom" and be honest with ourselves more: "We desire to be free." 

As Pablo Neruda wrote in Keeping Quiet

For once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

Let's hear what they're saying. The animals. They sprecht. Or sprachketen. Or something, not in German. Obvi. 

Instead of anthropomorphizing animals, let's zoopromorphize ourselves and when we are done being quiet, and start moving our arms around again, we can say how like the squid am I. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Sea Monsters

Today's jam is sea monssssters.

There are plenty of them and some are real. For instance, the Adelie penguin's mouth. (This picture below is from National Geographic not fan fiction of H.P. Lovecraft's "giant albino eyeless penguins" from At The Mountains of Madness. )

Imagine being a fish. This is a fish's Greek myth.

Of course the sea is full of monsters. We landlubbers know more about the surface of the Moon. The sea primordial takes up 75% of the Earth yet "less than 0.05 of the ocean floor has been mapped." Shiver. What's down there?

[Follow NOAA's Ocean Explorer on Twitter for live updates.]

To make it the unknown knowable we give it a name: Shoggoth, for instance. Or Scylla. Or Charybdis. Or all the names in the Peterson Field Guide to The Atlantic Seashore.  Neat and tidy classifications of the world and all that creepeth. We're not monsters. They are.

We have cute things like last year's Cephaloparty hosted by Science Friday to honor the great unknowability/majesty of the octopus and we have Earth Day, and World Oceans Day and Save the turtles! Don't release you balloons! campaigns.

But in the case of coral bleaching and ocean acidification (on which there is an international symposium coming up May 3-6 in Tasmania,  the 4th International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World #OHCO2W) it's becoming clear that it's us, not them with their tentacles; we are the ones who can be true monsters.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fangirl of Ocean Science

From the NOAA Okeanos Explorer website:  "From April 20 to July 10, 2016, scientists will investigate and document deepwater environments in and around the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island and the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument." 

Squeeeee! Yaaaaas! Deepwater is such a great compound noun. It's the combination of two boss nouns.

Frisson of excitement: I've been following NOAA's Okeanos Explorer like the power pose drawing of a fangirl:  

from  The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeksthe tremendous how-to by Sam Maggs. Maggs has given me the words I lacked for what I am.  I'm a fangirl of ocean science.

At the risk of getting misty, the ocean is where it all began: Life on Earth, etc. 

To show my love, to wear my heart on my sleeve and my #oceanoptimism,  I wear octopus-print pajamas.  "No water, no life; no blue, no green," said legendary ocean researcher and my hero, Sylvia Earle. I support Mission Blue. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Raft of The Medusa

Inspired by the newspaper blackout poems of Austin Kleon who writes poetry "by redacting newspaper articles with a permanent marker," I have set about redacting my Peterson's Field Guide to the Atlantic Seashore into poems in the time between now and World Oceans Day on June 8. 

As writing coaches like Natalie Goldberg say, give yourself permission. I'm giving myself permission. 

Meanwhile, I'm researching ocean #citizenscience projects (and so should you, the sea needs you! and me!). In my wading around I waded into Julian Barnes' Catastrophe into Art a spectacular art history essay on the famous French Romantic painting of a shipwreck. 

[Here's the link to Barnes' Keeping One Eye Open: Essays on Art. "Writers," he says, "envy other forms." I nodded my head. So true, Julian, so true.]

The moment in this painting is not the moment of rescue, Barnes says.

It is the moment hours before when the men saw a ship on the horizon, like a white butterfly, and they thought it was sailing toward them, certainly it was moving closer, AND SO THEY GOT OUT ALL THEIR TATTERED LINENS, FRENCH FLAGS AND HANDKERCHIEFS to hail it,

but it was sailing away.

Consider this your reminder to read about the new-to-us coral reef at the mouth of the Amazon River where they said no coral could grow.

In science, as in all things, you can be certain, and be wrong.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Fly Like A Penguin

It's #WorldPenguinDay.

Pictures of penguins are sledding across the interwebs ike penguins on ice (see how they sled on their bellies), and it seems imperative that I share my first whoah, yaaas penguins! 

Where the penguins were kept was a glassed-in hallway I usually walked through quickly to get to my pal Chuckles, the Amazon river dolphin at the Pittsburgh Aquazoo.

I like to watch Chuckles eat lettuce;  growing up in Pittsburgh in the '70s who doesn't remember Chuckles eating lettuce or playing with his plastic ring toys? So fun. He had a smile on his face.

I was reading Madeleine L'Engle's science fiction at the time and had convinced myself that Chuckles and I could kythe. (Or grok, if you are a more of a Stranger in A Strange Land fan.) There was an intuitive two-way understanding between me and the dolphin and I knew he would tell no one if I asked him telepathically would he be my friend? The kythed answer was, Lettuce. 

And, of course! Yes.

The penguins had rocks in their domain made out of white plastic to mimic their Antarctic home. The hallway was very cold. A zookeeper in a parka was feeding them fish from a bucket on this day that I remember.

The penguins would zip under the water of their rectangular Western Pennsylvania pool leaving a bubble stream in their wake and pop like corks onto onto their ledge of white plastic.  It was so beautiful the way they moved in the water. Like Baryshnikovs. And so funny, the way they moved on land.

If you can't be great at everything, they seemed to say, be great at one thing. What's yours? 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Prince and My #48daysofblue

I'm petitioning NOAA to name this purplish, newly-discovered octopus after Prince. 

As lights around the world went purple last night in honor of the life and legacy of Prince, I began a #scicomm Twitter-feed of purple marine creatures because: "a strong spirit transcends rules," as His Most Purple said, and the sense of loss I feel in losing Prince is the loss of my childhood in the '80s which was 100% marine science geek soundtracked 98% by Prince and 2% by David Bowie (you had to take him too? The year of our rock gods, 2016, WTF?).  

Both men gave me images of manhood and sexuality that hinted at a defiant funky third rail. But Prince was my first crush. He crushed it for decades. Nobody had a higher or tighter ass. Nobody else played all the notes so well.

I was Beatlemania for him. And he was always there for me. He said, I would die 4 U and he said dearly beloved.

At Smith in the early '90s studying for marine invertebrate lab practical I was listening to Gett Off which is impossible music to try to do anything but concentrate on Prince to. I forgot in the exam the scientific name of the mantis shrimp. If U want me baby here I am wasn't it.

For the #48daysofblue between Earth Day and World Oceans Day I opened my trusty Peterson's Field Guide to the Atlantic Seashore for some #oceanoptimism and to write a blackout poem amidst my mourning as I told myself my practice would be, and I flipped through it and landed on this:

The Purple Sea Urchin. How apropos:  "appearing /
and disappearing unpredictably."

I'm underlining lines like that from my field guide while I cry a little while I wait for my petition to be taken seriously by NOAA to name the purplish Hawaiian ghost octopus after Prince.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

My Mermaid Is The Manatee

On this Thursday before this Friday which is Earth Day, founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson on April 22, 1970, I want to talk about manatees. I found the hashtag #FolkloreThursday today and on it were my people *hello, wonderful* talking about things I like, like mermaids oh for instance just for example I'm not obsessed with mermaids in Western art and literature at all.

No one but a lovelorn bowlegged drunken sailor out of the sight of land for months could confuse this:

a walrus-grey mammalian version of a slug plushy

with this:

a comely topless Victorian young woman with long hair held up by scallop combs and the tail of a fish singing beautiful to ya. [Bonus, from The Smithsonian: how manatees became mermaids.]

Here (below) they are singing to Odysseus in a scary way that is also sexy. [Things men in literature of died from.]

Christopher Columbus was so disappointed. According to the History Channel's On This Day in History, "on January 9, 1493, sailing near the Dominican Republic, Columbus saw 'three mermaids'- in reality manatees - and described them as 'not half as beautiful as they are painted.'''  Forgive him, his world was flat and full of krakens.

Manatees, big girls, you are beautiful.

And John Lithgow thinks so too; listen to him sing  I'm A Manatee. "From time to time I dream I am a manatee / undulating beneath the sea, / unshackled by the chains of idle vanity/ a modest manatee, / that's me." There is love in his voice.

Love of the slug plushy slow sea cow that feeds on sea lettuce and water hyacinth (up to 10 -15% of its body weight daily) and who endures us, our propellers and our pollution, with a land-of-the-lotus eaters bewhiskered bewitching face: Whatcha doin'? You silly ridiculous landatees. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Ocean As A Writing Prompt

Mark your calendars, oceanonauts, nerds, and people who live on this misnamed planet,  World Oceans Day is June 8. The Earth should really be named Water.  Here's Carl Sagan saying it's a pale blue dot. 

From the U.N.'s World Ocean Day page:

"The ocean is the heart of our planet. Like your heart pumping blood to every part of your body, the ocean connects people across the Earth, no matter where we live. The ocean regulates the climate, feeds millions of people every year, produces oxygen, is the home to an incredible array of wildlife [like octopuses, addition mine], provides us with important medicines, and so much more!"

As a writer, I love the use of the phrase and "and so much more!" It sounds carnival barker. It sounds like the ocean might want to sell you a sleep-number mattress.  It's a placeholder for anything. It's the other duties as assigned in the ocean's job description.

It includes, for me (metaphors be with you), the metaphorical power of the sea: mother of us all.  There's a lot going with that, it's probably Freudian.

But I'm using the sea as a writing prompt for #48daysofblue as my heathen-hippie-natureworshipper secular Lenten practice between Earth Day, this Friday, April 22 and World Oceans Day.

I've been making black out poems using Peterson's Field Guide To The Atlantic Seashore and it's been instructive. Plate 32, Comb Jellies. "Body flattened/ saclike, / they do not sting." In a lot of ways, that is me. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Great Question! Science

Science: it's fundamentally, primarily, firstly, about asking a good question.  I love asking questions. 

Throw out with the bathwater that  nonsense about how curiosity killed the cat. The real cat of science is very and inexhaustibly curious. It's a poky little puppy.

"Play like you don't know how to play the guitar," is something Miles Davis supposedly said to John McLaughlin. The same koan of advice applies to scientific questions. Ask questions like you don't know how to ask questions, as if you are a child.

In my 40 + career here on Earth I've asked a lot dumbass adult questions. Ex., "Why did my college boyfriend cheat on me on my own futon?" Ex., "Does this lipliner (whatever)?"

That is a question, yes, but it is not one worth devoting one's scientific career to (or even junior year to, as I did.)  I could have been asking better ones regarding marine snails. Sorry Professor Peckol.

When I asked my first good scientific question it was about the barnacle. "Why are there bands of barnacles on those cobbles" I asked. "Whyfor the bandination?" BOOM. "Great question!" someone said, and I was handed a transect.

I'd graduated to step two of the scientific method. POW. Construct a hypothesis.

It was Vertical Zonation of The Intertidal.  For a few minutes on Appledore Island, off the Coast of Maine, studying at Cornell's Shoals Marine Lab for six weeks in 1994, I was thinking like a marine ecologist. Then I got tired. "Is it time for lunch?" I asked. It's work being in waders in the sun carrying a stick to fend off the gulls protecting their nests on a steep rocky shoreline. When's lunch?

I'm reminded now of the famous 19th c. zoologist Louis Agassiz who considered the barnacle to be "nothing more than a little shrimp-like animal standing on its head in a limestone house and kicking food into its mouth."

Read more here:

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Citizen Science Day

Citizen! Today is the first ever Citizen Science Day. Rejoice! comrades!  

"A major celebration will be held on April 16, 2016, in conjunction with the USA National Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, DC." 

Here's he's totally my boyfriend science communicator Sir David Attenborough, Lord of All Features Featuring Creatures, talking about the importance of YOU to science. Sir David, it is my pleasure to count tadpoles in my local vernal pool. 

So get yourselves to the capital. Or, good people, #TakeASample for NPR's Science Friday Science Club and tweet out your #MyCitSci. #ObserveEverything. Participate. Put on this nifty t-shirt and sound the gong:

Here's a list of SciStarter's citizen science projects.

(Hint: do what you like. "Scratch what itches," is advice to writers, and to citizen scientists. You don't have to count tadpoles.  BUT YOU TOTALLY SHOULD. "Since amphibians' skin is permeable, these creatures are more susceptible to contaminants and changes in their aquatic habitats. By their very nature they are considered a 'sentinel species,'"- from the EPA's blog, Our Planet, Our Home.)

This new kind of citizen science #bigdata collection is totally hot awesomesauce.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Inky The Octopus

Every few years there is a meme animal. A memimal. Right now, trending on the interwebs near you, is the octopus. A New Zealand common one.

Other examples include: owl-print fabric at Target. Put A Bird On It.  The mantis shrimp. 

They serve to remind us that we, darling Homo sapiens that we are, are not the only consciousness on earth, and our way of doing things (upright, with bones, on land, breathing into organs developed for this purpose) is not the only way.  We're really weird. In fact, maybe we're the monsters.

I find it humbling. Inky, the invertebrate who outwitted us. Us, the apex predator, us, the top of the food chain, we who melt the polar ice caps thank you very much. Yaaaaas queen. 

I give Inky a big Gene Kelly Singin' In The Rain hat tip. From where I'm standing the sun is shining all over the place. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Flying Fish

To begin, here's Oprah voice-over narrating the flying fish because there is just not enough of that.

Flying fish can make "powerful, self-propelled leaps out of water into air, where their long, wing-like fins enable gliding flight for considerable distances over the water's surface." That strikes me as profound, but I'm not going to unpack the metaphor. I'm going to let you have it.

I got my nails done.  I was going to go for the raw-tuna-steak-deep red called  Nobody Knows I'm A Waitress, but, in a last minute change of heart (and I guess, waitress), I went for Cantaloupe.

It's bright orange, just this side of School Bus, Nacho, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese "It's The Cheesiest." It's loud.

It goes with nothing I own. I was wearing a wan sad floral scoop-neck. The guy took one look at my skin which is the color of a pastry bag. He said, "Are you sure?"

I couldn't very well say actually, really, if we're having this intimate moment that I think we're having  essentially, honey, I'm never sure of anything.  I told him the color reminded me of tobiko, flying fish roe, and that I was working to be of service to marine conservation and the loudness of my nails would remind me of my commitment.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

I Want To Be A Lighthouse Keeper And Live By The Side Of The Sea

Goody Bastos, though a killer name IMHO, is no mo'. I'm SO EXCITED. "Kill your darlings," is often the advice given to aspiring writers.

I'm no longer hiding my riot girrrl science nerd nature under the basket of memoir OR SOMETHING. I'm going where I've always wanted to go which is into the belly of the whale.  I want to write in service of something larger than myself. The ocean covers 75% of the earth, and totally qualifies.  

Did you know I drove a van full of invertebrates like clams in buckets to schools all over the I-93 corridor for the New England Aquarium? I instructed kids to to use their one touching finger. The one touching finger is something I came up withAnd don't squeeze the sea cucumber lest it blurp out its internal organs in defense. It can grow them back. 

Did I tell you I put together a dolphin skeleton working one summer at a camp at the Mystic Marinelife Aquarium and living in my boyfriend's Connecticut College dorm room?

If you want Goody Bastos stuff it's archived to the right, starting April 13, the year of the pearlfish in the anus of a sea cucumber 2016.  The queen is dead, long live the octopus.

Pick Up Off The Floor

Y'all know I'm having a MIKA moment. I lurv the little Freddie, as in Mercury, as in Queen, a musical tsunami introduced to me by the French son of my parents' French friends who was visiting from France. It was all very exotic to me then.

[When you Google "Freddie Mercury" an auto fill-in search option is "Freddie Mercury teeth." I get this, and have searched it myself. His too-many-and-too-big teeth are the best.]

David, pronounced Daveeed, the French way, you know who you are. And merci. You listened to Queen on a Walkman (see: dinosaurs roamed the earth) as we drove into Canada in my parents' wood trim station-wagon to get a load of some Shakespeare at Stratford. In other words, my father was a high school English teacher.

We sat in the way back with nary a seatbelt. But with The Tempest to protect us. Thou hast, and more, Miranda. 

Childhood is the time of Ariel. Young adulthood, which lasted for me well into my 30s: Caliban. Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises. Ain't that the truth.

Now that middle age is mine (why do women live long past the age of childbearing? Grandmother hypothesis! Nature article. I told you this was a science blog!) I think of Casaubon, the endlessly-researching never-completing tragic antihero of George Eliot's Middlemarch. Is that me? It is me. Sometimes, I dither likewise for the impossible Key to All Mythologies. 

As a model for aging and transformation and admitting we can't do it alone, no man is an island, I like Prospero. He's a life-long-learner. He can pivot and disrupt, as is all the rage. Everyone's pivoting.  We are all pivoting disruptors. "The body replaces itself with a new set of cells every seven years, and our most important parts are revamped more frequently." (Again with the science blog, Bastos. Good for you!)

And now my charms are all overthrown/ what strength I have's mine own,/ Which is most faint... ... Gentle breath of yours my sails/ Must fill...says Prospero. It is, some have argued, "one of the most fascinating and moving speeches in all of Shakespeare."

One of MIKA's album covers, bubblegum rainbow pop balloon-font Sgt. Pepper-esque cartoons (see above) was designed by his sister, Yasmine Penman, an artist who goes by the name DaWack. Her artwork (above) for Everybody's Gonna Love Today moved me to write this. It's project, like Prospero's, was to please, and I am gonna love today.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Lowly Worm

There is an old proverb: God made the worm before he made you. What it means is don't get too big for your britches.

Lowly Worm is a character from Richard Scarry's picture books for children, such as 1973's Please and Thank You. Another great children's book is How To Behave and Why.  It's good to know why.

Lowly Worm is an example that I like of how to be in the world. I'm attaching myself to it. We may think we are lions, we often do, but who among us is not fundamentally a lowly worm? We're blinding moving through the dirt.

Do we know everything? No. Can we? I hope, dear reader, that you are shaking your head no. We can't. We see through a glass darkly. Even with all of our data plans.

Did you know for instance that human psychology has what's called called negativity bias? We do. It sucks, but "it's evolutionarily adaptive for bad to be stronger than good," says the psychologist Roy Baumeister.

We can overcome it. But it takes practice, like writing down three things that we're grateful for every day and other things. I picked up a pretty unicorn notebook for this purpose and some more sparkly pens from Japan. You know how I love sparkle. In this way I am crow.

 Look at that jaunty hat and bowtie on that worm. The lowly worm is trying, trying, trying to be a person. See his bumpkinish over-eager wide-eyed smile? It's so dear.

My goal is to look the same. I have very short hair, and I also like hats.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Pivoting The Blog

I'm pivoting the blog. That's Silicon Valley-speak (no it's not).

I'm changing things up on the fine speech-horn that is Goody Bastos. I'm mercury. I'm quicksilver. I'm a chameleon. I'm about to make a paragraph break. Goody B is now a science and nature blog.

From now on the content will not be parenting, kids, parenting, kids. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Cycle on gentle. But what else is there? besides the laundry? you may ask. I was oversharing, perhaps. I was not breaking the Internet.

I've been helped to consider even the non-internet-breakage from the point of view of my children. 

Artists who will not be named (Sally Mann) have done artistically groundbreaking and potentially dumb-hurtful, potentially (depending on your point of view) pornographic things by photographing their prepubescent children. Or using their family as subjects in their writing (Sharon Olds, David Sedaris, and basically every writer evah). What a swell party this is! 

But they make such good copy! "Everything is copy!"  Right? Bueller? <-- a="" about="" bastos.="" break.="" chameleon.="" changing="" direction="" do="" fine="" for="" goody="" i="" is="" it="" m="" mercury.="" nbsp="" no="" not="" of="" p="" paragraph="" quicksilver.="" s="" silicon="" speak="" speech-horn="" switching="" that="" the="" this="" to="" up.="" valley="">::crickets chirping::  

Some crickets value privacy in this culture of public confession and rude nudeness. It's just so hard to quit you, confessionalism. Being public about being a hot mess in mom jeans.

It's a blurse (a blessing and a curse) to have a writer in the family. Pro: Good book recommendations. Con: In print you are so thinly disguised you're basically naked as a caryatid contrapposto who holds up an architectural column in a filmy toga. Isn't she soooo pretty? I love her.

"Let's whisper things about her!" said my old self. 

"No, bozo, don't be a jerk," said to my new self, "we're a science and nature blog now."

So, conclusion: my passion other than for stew, shade, and malarky is for humor, nature and science writing.

I've always been distracted by a plop! frog jump! into the pond because science is funny. Plop! is a hilarious word. And I like to laugh.  Nature and science is Skeevy-Funny Intimations of Mortality and The Interconnected Web of All Things. It's impossible not to find story-gold in it.

For example, there is a fish that lives in the anus of a sea cucumber. I am not making this up. It is the pearl fish. Goody B will report on things like that, like fish living in the anuses of sea cucumbers. For your enjoyment. And edification, your intellectual and moral improvement.

However -- caveat -- in the event there is some news about children (generally) parenting (big trends) and laundry (hacks) I will report it live, from the bowels where I live.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

All Wisdom Is Not New Wisdom

All wisdom is not new wisdom is a Winston Churchill quote. He also said when you're going through hell keep going.  I have that as a magnet on my fridge and I refer to with frequency because I suffer from small hells like

hey, morons, we're out of coffee! 

There is intelligence in all kinds of life according to Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.  I learned the origin story of Skywoman (that's her, above). It's a very beautiful story. There's no Western canon to it.

"A pregnant woman drops through a hole in the sky created by an uprooted tree. The birds catch her and gently guide her down onto the back of Great Turtle," and the world begins with all the animals, and this woman.

The Way I was brought up was Eve royally screwing up, being kicked out of the garden, and scared of snakes.  It's a feminist bummer.

I haven't told the Christian origin story to my daughter because: Why do that to a girl? She's already worked up about hairdos. She's only 8. I'm not going to lay the screwup on her. I don't want to give her the Madonna Whore complex that I have, and besides, it is such a boring and predictable tall tale. It's not about women, it's about men. What we used to call in college when we were giving everything the Bechtel movie test, "the male gaze."

I'm going to tell my daughter that Mama dropped out of a hole in the sky.

You can't prove that it didn't happen, or that it did. It's not new wisdom, all wisdom is not new, but it's news to me.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

We'll Never Have Been Happier

In my middle age, am I going soft? I am going soft. I have rosy-colored glasses. I have my frog goggles on. I'm raising tadpoles. I sit around thinking gee, things are so metamorphic. 

That's how I talk to myself. There's a lot of oh, golly! Fancy that! And wow! like Brit who's also a stoned surfer.

I'm at the bottom of the U-shaped happiness curve. The bottom of the pickle barrel. Things can only go up.  There's research to prove it.

Happiness plummets in ones 40s, but "as we head into our 50s, levels of contentment take off again. By the time we're in our 60s, it's likely that we'll never have been happier."

We'll never have been happier is stilted language.

But maybe not so stilted. Or stilted is the point. 

What I need is stilts to lift myself up above the landscape, the fray, the ha-ha of middle-aged suburban motherhood's perma-frown and bills for Stages 1 through graduate school of orthodonture for my kids and into the sunlight above the clouds. The lovers, the dreamers, and me, 40-something raising tadpoles in a basin, greeting them every morning with a sparkling, "Sproglets! Why, hello!" 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Educational-Military-Industrial Complex

The collective noun of "military spending" is "world." We live in a world of military spending. Like geese in a flock.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (cute acronym, SPIRI, like the nickname of a Swedish exchange student wearing denim overalls, unironically, in 1990) world military expenditure totaled 1.7 trillion in 2015.

The U.S. remains by far the top military spender. [Hey big spender.] 

"Exuberance is beauty," said William Blake, but he was not referring to rockets I don't think or mutually assured destruction.

Call me dunderheaded, team Hufflepuff, but why can't we imagine something different? Surely we can! With our large prefrontal cortexes, collective noun, "grey matter."

My kids 8 and 11 are in the American Educational System (AES, SPIRI's frenemy?). They're heirs to our profligate military spending. Little kids! Who haven't yet learned to hate anybody so hard. Boy are we teaching them fast. With sports. But that is a topic for another time.

Our school is heavily invested in robotics (hello DARPA! ::bats eyelashes::), coding (hellllllo, sailor!) and STEM (let's get this party started!). I'm sorry to say it but this is exactly the way our military likes it. We're not raising poets. We are not Ferdinand the sweet bull from the children's story who just wants to sniff the flowers in the hair of ladies of Spain. We are Sparta. [Engineering humans for war.]

Monkey that I am I'm going out on a limb. Is STEM just code for soft porn military spending?

We say we're raising thinkers. We say "content is dead," and that "thinking skills" are the new canon. Perhaps we should then critically think from where this STEM money is coming from? And where the jobs will be; at the helm of what drone array? of which military contractor? Like a sooperfun VRC video game! 

"Solving a STEM equation is important, but discoveries in the sciences will only occur when people know how to be alone with their own thoughts. Who is teaching that?" opined Tracey Moore a few days ago in The Chronicle of Higher Education, in her essay, "Theater majors will be vital in the digital age."

To which I say, all well and good. Who isn't up for some interpersonal relations? But, let's go beyond drama.

Let's go beyond competing academic disciplines and ask: Who is teaching peace? Why is that pamphlet not in the hand of every parent and teacher?

I don't want my kids "to learn to act like humans" as Moore suggested would be a boon to us hollow-eyed screen-addicted engineering n' science altar worshippers. I totally don't want my kids to learn to act like humans. That's what's gotten us into all the wars, acting like humans. Whooping and hollering. Screeching for ripe red fruit. 

I want my kids to learn that our prefrontal cortexes, collective noun "humanity," can be better more peaceful more loving more equal than what it currently is. In other words, let's progress beyond the Bern.

Monday, April 4, 2016

In Flagrante

The vernal (also called ephemeral) pools were boiling with American toads in flagrante. The one near the duck pond I've named Plato's Retreat, 1970 after a New York swingers club. "We were degenerates, but we were good people."  How often have I said as much about my youth? 

There is much to be learned. "Be like the frog," said Suzuki, the famous Zen teacher.

Full-grown adults are usually chubby.  I like that line so much. It's like toads have permission to go to flab in middle age. Also, when "chubby" is used as a descriptor in a field guide, an angel gets its wings. Field guides as a genre are known for being dry and meticulous. Nothing they describe can ever be engorged.

Males sing. [Hear them singing.] It is a long pleasant trill. It has a soporific effect.  I was going to pull my sunhat down over my eyes and go to sleep on the mossy bank while the toads were having the time of their short amphibious lives. Voyeurism exhausts me. I peter out. When I told her that I had observed everything that could be observed about the Chesapeake rockfish, my college marine biology professor said, "Go back and look at that fish for another hour."

It wasn't that pornographic, although we joked. We were embarassed. Watching toads mating was bringing up things that we didn't want to talk about. It had happened before: when we came across foxes doing it. They gave us a forlorn look of the consequences. 

They were stuck together. The male fox cannot pull out. The female can't run. It would rip their bodies.  So they did a shameful, ineffective sideways lope for the treeline. "Can't we save them, Mom?" my daughter had cried. She thought they needed saving. "No," I said. We drove away, the foxes getting smaller in the rearview mirror until they became one fuzzy reddish spot.

Our son, 11, said, "Hey look Mom, Dad, this frog is mating with a cattail. How come it doesn't know it's mating with a cattail?" Good question. How do you know your partner is not a cattail?

"Any port in the storm," I said.

My husband and I looked at each other. We might have to go back and look at each other for another hour, the long-married being rockfish, and foxes, and toads. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

High heels, baby.

Nathaniel, my son, above (named after the sea captain in the Holling Clancy Holling book Seabird) has been asking The Big Questions.

Why are we here?  What's the meaning of death? And, furthermore, Why do women wear high heels? Men don't. Except rock stars.

[Bonus thinking material: If women's roles in ads were played by men.]

I mumble mumble mumble because where does one start when it comes to talking about these things? Rock stars. I tell him, "Well, son, men used to wear heels. Like in France, a long time ago, there was a lot of heel-wearing among men."

[John Malkovich in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, embracing a wall wearing tight tights and calf bows, probably, and definitely wearing makeup because that's what men did. They rouged. They wigged. Let's go back there.]

"Sure, Mom, in France a long time ago. But what about now?" my son asks. He turns the screw.

"I want to wear your boots."

I'm thinking, Kid, knock yourself out. This is nowhere in the parenting manual. We are off-road.

Put on these ridiculous things I as your mother have been socialized to think look adorbs! on my feet so my balance is off and my tush sticks out the better to take me from behind, but we've all agreed to call it euphemistically "Spring Fashion." It's "Chimpanzee Biology." These boots weren't made for walking.

And he does.

I think I had the same expression when I tried on my first pair of heels, 2-inch black suede beauties for the Allderdice High School semi-formal. The wha'? face.

I wobbled around Little's Shoe Store full of new secrets until I hit my stride: this was womanhood. It was uncomfortable, it made you a little taller, and you had to pay for it.