Thursday, February 25, 2016

Love Letter To My Mom Turning 70

My mother turns 70 today.

In her honor, I am wearing a crisp white button down "that elongates the neck." I've existed for years in an outfit that the best compliment you can give it is to say that I am clothed. In her honor, I would have a parade. Something brassy that would walk up and down the street.

My mom is always turned out. She always smells good. If she doesn't like the way a restaurant has cooked a lobster she sends it back. Me, I'm always simpering, "There is some lovely filth down here," and ::don't make eye contact::

I've added no link to that fashionable, clean, presentable, lipsticked, queen-of-all-she-surveys, "farm boy fetch me that pitcher," chain of DNA going back to Mitochondrial Eve. In fact, my mom's Dancing School presentability used to chafe me. All the baggage of the second generation.

I wore Jams.  I ran amok.  The son of my mom's friends from France visited and said, "You are wearing men's underwear as shorts, no?" in that irritating, imperial Renee Descartes accent of logic. I think she might have had hoped we would like each other.

But your mother turning 70?  This is a thing to which you wear something special. Not yoga pants.  Chanel No. 5. My grandmother wore Chanel No. 5. On me however it smells like angelic baby's bum.

We are going to luncheon, as my mother would say.  I've purchased a present for her. I feel like the buck-tooth eleven year old I've always been: I hope Mommy likes it!

Not all mothers get to turn 70. Not all daughters get to experience aging with the one that brung 'ya. We're getting old together. We were young together.

There is something comforting about these parallel rails.  These little engines that could; our hearts. I think I can I think I can. The trains going up the steep mountainside into the mist.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Unlikely Partners

John Muir said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." That quote is supposed to put us in our place. We're not super special as the upright ape that's sapient. We're in the tree of life. 

I've always found that quote twee. Like, hey John Muir, titan of conservation, after whom the Muir Woods of giant sequoias in California is named, everybody knows that you can erroneously link anything to anything else by Google-searching it.

But, I was researching the dangerous trade in venomous sea snakes. In my slithering I found an article in Conservation magazine: Unlikely partners: rhino poaching & sea snake exploitation

"One popular remedy for snakebites? Rhino horn, either applied directly to the bite, or ground into a paste and swallowed. Thus, there is a direct, heartbreaking link between the pointless brutal slaughter of African rhinos for their horns, and the unsustainable harvest of sea snakes in the Gulf of Thailand."

I've experienced enough of pain to know I would grind into a paste and swallow rhino horn if I though it would help.  I would bleed the yellow-bellied sea snake.

I've only ever seen a rhino from far away, at the zoo, and felt no great affinity. I smashed a snake with a shovel once. It got into my grandparents' farm house. I thought it was poisonous but it turned out later, upon closer, no-longer-hysterial inspection, to be a harmless black rat snake. So many things are.

So what? I could think, about the sea snakes and the rhinos, locked in a cycle with us.  So what, we ate all the remaining dodos?  The last remaining passenger pigeon is taxidermied and on display at Harvard's Museum of Natural History. I visit it every year. I like to visit it. I look into its eye.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Adolescence And The Word "Fang"

I'm writing about sea snakes, which are among the most venomous snakes in the world.

I've gotten stuck on the word "fang," and worse, it's plural, "fangs."  It's a little F-word, something that for a laugh you would name your fluffy pet rabbit. This is Fang Angora. 

It starts with an f as in friendly and ends with a g as in gosh and yet, fangs. I'm going get my fangs into you.

It implies a takeover. Like adolescence, which is a thing that's happening to my son. A smelling, hair-making coup d'etat. A velvet revolution.

This is how I perceive The World as a parent. As a vampire. As a venomous snake.

It will intoxicate my son. He will love it. It will poison him. He will despair. But out into the world is where he is going. It frightens me. All the things that can happen as the baby sea turtle waddles like an innocent down the beach toward the sea. We've seen the nature shows.

So we had the sex drugs and alcohol talk.

Afterwards, I said brightly, "Do you have any questions?" putting on my There Are No Questions That Will Embarrass Me face.

He said, "Why would anyone do that?"

"Do what? What part?" I said, my big bright smile like a Bat Signal of Ally; Safe Person, Safe Place.

"Any part, Mom," he said,  "Any of what you're taking about."

Friday, February 19, 2016

Like A Mother Or A Mountain Goat

I was at the pool watching DS, 10, swim. I could hear his laughter over the din of a hundred kids doing breaststroke. I must have a fish in my ear. Like a penguin mother. 

Someone probably told a fart joke. I don't think fart jokes are that funny.

My son ::eyerolls:: he says, that in my epic uncoolness, I remind him of a mountain goat.

But I like the look of the mountain goat. She looks like an end table. Look at my friggin' hooves. Look at my chin hair. I am the business. "None shall pass."

I'd rather be a mountain goat than a penguin any day. I like the mountains. I like the metaphors. I like the idea of nimbly leaping up challenges versus falling and squawking, as happens sometimes with penguins.

Thursday, February 18, 2016


This is ambergris.

Ambergris is the honked up sputum of the sperm whale. It does not come out of its mouth, but rather its stern end. It's nasty and distasteful. And it's in Chanel No. 5. Whale poo.

Ambergris is the perfume industry's best fixative and augmenter. People have likened the scent to "old wood in a cathedral." (See also: "funk" "mushrooms" and "sweaty old gym towel, in a good way.") Casanova put ambergris in chocolate mousse.

But I like gross stuff.  Mushroom veils. I examine owl pellets with a fork from home.

I tried to convince my son, 10, that he should sign up for Neuroscience Camp because in the description it said, "we will dissect a real brain." I was like, "Be someone! Do that!" He said, "I don't like getting my hands dirty. Why don't you take Neuroscience Camp, Mom." "I'm too old," I said. "There are no camps for people like me." That's why, honey, I must live vicariously through you. 

The last time I did a dissection was in college, on a dogfish. It was fascinating, partly because I like the naming of parts. 

This is a dogfish.

I've never found ambergris. Its unlikely that I ever will.

Sperm whales are increasingly rare and they don't live where I live. To go where they go I'd have to dive to a depth of 10, 000 feet and hold my breath for more than an hour while with my jaws in the dark bite the tentacles off deep sea colossal squids.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Big Fan of the Octopus

Every few years there emerges an "it" animal. Recently it was owls, and put birds on it. Then we wondered what does the fox say; we were wondering what they say.

The cantankerous mantis shrimp even had a moment.  Radiolab did a whole show on the cantankerous mantis shrimp's ability to see a symphony about of colors, compared to us.

Where are the "it" animal nomination forms? Like Pantone determines the colors of the year? I want to nominate Octopus.

I want to see octopus-print fabric on the spring collection of women's pajamas at Target. I want to see octopus napkin rings. Octopus pendant necklaces. I want Carrie Brownstein to wear an octopus barrette singing with Sleater-Kinney. Pwweeese?

I'm a BIG FAN.

I read Sy Montgomery's book The Soul of an Octopus, drooling.

Like the gloomy octopus -- it's common name -- I'd like to gather in her affinity group. Sy Montgomery's people, the fish nerds, are the people who get up at 5 a.m. to put their arms into 45 degree seawater to be suckered at by a female octopus and then write about the awe, the otherworldliness, and the #humblebrag and I nominate myself to be translator of this world to that other.

Friday, February 12, 2016

We're All Animals This Election Season

We're all animals.  It's not the slightest bit scary election season. The research is in. Predatory advertising works. Am I "feeling the Bern?" or is that a rash? We follow the wildebeest herd. Because we're animals. It's the primaries.

I bought a pair of pants because my neighbor had them and we talked about them, and my tracking device phone must have heard me, because up popped like a fox on my Facebook those damn pants. So I bought them. Because I'm an animal. It's in my DNA to blend into my environment in camel pants if my friends are wearing them.

We (like gorillas) respond positively to deep male voices. Like Alan Rickman's. Here's the science to prove it

Sorry, HRC. You're always being called "shrill." It's horrible and sexist. I get it. I went to Smith. They've been killing us softly for 40 years, "and it's gotten worse," says Jill Kilbourne, of the women in advertising series Killing Us Softly.

We're biologically programmed to trust the deep male voice more, and attribute to it logic, sense, and... Daddy. 

However when women age and their voices naturally lower we all know they're witches. They have to wear artful scarves, because they feel bad about their necks.

This "forehead tiara" is from Noa Zilberman's Wrinkles jewelry collection currently at the Cooper Hewitt. I already have one, thanks.

We're going to elect a president. Us animals, who paid strippers based on their menstrual cycle? When strippers were ovulating, and their estrogen was high, they got paid more. Great. I feel confident in us.

Who like baboons focus on the color red because we think it means sex and/or ripe fruit? Who, like me, can be predatorily made to buy pants? Us, the naked ape? 

We're shocked politics has gotten so tribal, so "us versus them," so us versus losers, "make America great again," "build a wall," Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem falling over their own feet? This is who we are. We're a brutal species. We're really into red.

Color study looks at the effects of red and blue. "Those who wore red defeated those wearing blue 60 percent of the time." Also, men found they wanted to have sex with women wearing red more. 

Obviously you should wear red when you vote, or do anything where you might want to be having sexed with more. You animal.

My wardrobe is mostly blues and greens. I will be getting rid of it all and wearing only crimson forever and speaking in a baritone. In a few years it will be completely natural as we tear each other to bits.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dance Dance Revolution

"Life is about moving." - Twyla Tharp, choreographer and author of The Creative Habit.  

Well, Twyla, you might be moving. You're a choreographer. I'm a writer. I sit in this chair at my desk, waiting at the old ice hole for fish.

[Sitting will kill you even if you exercise.] 

Sitting is what I increasingly do. The fish are few. I've made up my mind to dance more.

I'm may no longer be capable of "Salsa Arm Styling," a class I enthusiastically took in Boston in my 20s, along with "Afro-Cuban" at The Dance Complex.

My salsa arms: batwings. My salsa shoes from Teddy shoes: they're covered with, as Dylan Thomas would say, "a pure and grandfather" dust. 

But I put them on anyway, as a little girl might play dress up. I T-boned the mirror.  It was 10 AM.

I used to go out at 10 PM, is what I thought, but that was a different clock face, youth, and not a useful thought, and I've decided in my 40s to have only useful thoughts.

I put on Songs From A Little Blue House, raised my hands and began. The effect was dance dance revolution. On a spin, I felt my dew-lapped cheeks lag ever so slightly behind me, my middle age following me like a loyal old dog.

But that's okay, it's great even, it's better than stillness; all the people that I have been so far were moving.