Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mom wars

I learned recently about a phenomenon called "Mom Wars," and since first hearing about the wars I've been leaving Graham in his crib, sobbing and starving and with Scrabble letters to play with, for hours at a time while I research and attempt to figure out how to win them. They sound fun, like elementary school field day games but with babies, and I imagine they involve:  dodgeball with Baby Bjorns on; hula hooping with Baby Bjorns on; potato sack races with Baby Bjorns on; foot races that take place while moms carry their babies in giant spoons and try not to drop them. Sometimes I envision mothers hurling javelins into an open field of dirty diapers, and sometimes I see paths of hot coals, at the end of which lie infants in distress. There would also have to be a swaddling contest.

Time magazine probably didn't start, but it certainly seems to have some interest in perpetuating, the Mom Wars. The cover from two weeks ago featured a mother breastfeeding her four-year-old and asked its mother-readers, "Are You Mom Enough?" It was generally regarded as a shocking cover, but I have an ostensibly unrelated axiom that might actually apply to the Time cover:  Any girl who thinks she's pretty isn't. Any magazine cover that thinks it's shocking isn't? I don't know. Maybe.

It's not shocking to me that there exists a mother who breastfeeds her four-year-old. It wouldn't shock me to learn that there are a dozen such mothers, or a few dozen, or hundreds of dozens. And if thousands of dozens of mothers breastfed their four-year-olds it wouldn't be shocking because it'd just be semi-common instead. It wouldn't be like seeing a Toyota, but it’d be like seeing a Smart Car—a Smart Car that has teeth and plays tee-ball and wears sneakers and breastfeeds. Truly, though:  it doesn't shock me, and I'm not even sure I find it weird. Someone once said (or wrote, I don't remember), "Nothing human disgusts me, unless it's violent or unkind."

I've learned from reading articles and blogs that some mothers have decided to rise above the pettiness of the Mom Wars:  most non-combatants identify as isolationists, but this mother is just sanctimoniously all-embracing, having a "whatever floats your parental boat" kind of attitude, barring violence and unkindness, and in instances of either I'm less likely to condemn the mother than to simply cry over the child.

I'm generally judgmental and opinionated (I'm a vegetarian because it's morally right; I'm pro-choice, more so now than before becoming a mother; if you're rich I doubt you deserve to stay that way; I think too many gay teens died before Obama decided to support the community to which they never got to truly belong, and it breaks my heart), and I'd like to fight in the Mom Wars. It seems like a plausible hobby for me to pursue:  I spend my days mothering—I might as well make my mothering habits into a rigid dogma and proselytize accordingly. What else am I going to do? Laundry? When Graham was three months old I hit his head on the doorframe as we left the house to walk to the mailbox after having earlier that same day lost my grip on the elastic bottom of his pajamas, sending the cloth smacking onto his thigh:  he cried both times. And Graham is, because of me, an utterly co-dependent sleeper:  he NEVER naps alone and he ALWAYS spends at least part of the night next to us in bed. And of course, as I've whined about before, I never produced breastmilk, which is the single biggest tragedy of my clearly not-too-tragic life. I've heard mothers remark that they get dirty looks when they breastfeed in public, and I've felt dirtily looked upon for formula feeding. What can we do? It seems emotionally slutty to claim that every mother does her best, so instead I'll say that every mother fucks up at least a little. That has to be true. But even if that's true, the Mom Wars victor (victress?) will be she who fucks up the least. And that's me. I'm the victress. Game over. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Church, etc.

One Sunday, in the hazy early moments of a hangover, going to church seemed like an easier and surer remedy for my pains than simply walking to the kitchen to procure a bagel and bringing it back into bed with me to munch on whenever a discomfort forced me from sleep back into wakefulness. Getting the bagel of course would've been much simpler than going to church—the latter required dressing, driving and smiling at the elderly, but something about venturing into the kitchen seemed impossible in those early morning moments. Everyone I've known in real life and encountered in fiction agrees that the best way to confront a hangover is with a greasy, carby breakfast, but eating has always been likelier to send me yakking than relieve me. I've often heard it said that greasy food "soaks up" the alcohol remaining in the belly from the night before, an image that in the soberest of states still makes me feel queasy. Plus, it doesn't seem to make chemic sense. Anyway, I was vaguely afraid of the bagel, and I also probably felt remorseful or anxious about my over-consumption, so I went to church, even though I'm not even a tad religious.

Some people have told me that they like reading my blog, which is really cool to me—it's the point, I admit, of writing publicly:  to be read. But knowing that anyone reads this makes blogging a trickier endeavor than it is when I just hope or imagine someone might be reading, because I suddenly feel like I should write more of whatever has appealed to people in the past, probably snarky mom humor or gentle griping about married life. Being boring scares me more than snakes, and my love letter to Bethany Cosentino—which was actually more of a whiny eulogy, either containing no jokes or itself one long joke—was not very interesting, and I know that. I figured most people, not knowing who Bethany is, would stop reading after the salutation, "Dear Bethany Cosentino." Beyond the greeting and into the content more problems emerged:  I sloppily conflated love and longing, and like a wimp I suggested that it's okay for longing to be one-sided since longing will always remain a subject of our shared conversation. But at least in my boring letter to Bethany I wasn't being flippant or offensive about God, a being on whom people wager their souls (which I also don't believe in). Today I read this status update from an old high school classmate:  "Don't put a question mark where God put a period." Within thirty minutes of posting, the update had been liked eleven times, and I kept hoping someone would post a joke in response, like, "Yeah, use a semicolon instead," or, "You mean in my underwear?" There's really nothing I want that is accomplished by alienating people, but ...

It's easy for me not to write; it's incredibly hard to write, so if I find a subject, I have to seize it and let my mind (which I don't really believe in either) make my fingers move.

So with a hangover was how I last went to a church service, but years before that I attended a Presbyterian church regularly with Mimi, my dad's mom. And although it was always an engaging experience, I haven't, since the hangover, had any interest in attending regularly again … until yesterday when Aron and I drove by a church and I suddenly remembered that the Presbyterian church I went to with Mimi offered hour-long childcare services each Sunday. "I think all churches do that," Aron said, and my mouth hung open in astonishment while my mind-soul counted how many hours of adult time would be at my disposal if I "accepted" Jesus Christ as my savior. "Holy expletive! I need to join a church next to a coffee shop," I said. I could even put Graham in a big winter jacket and as I drop him off at the church daycare say, "Is this the coat check? God bless!" But then it occurred to me that these childcare providers might not even be ordained; they're probably just random willing teenagers, and I believe in them least of all.

It has been suggested by some that it might be financially worth my while to get a job and put Graham in daycare, but the fact of the matter is that a part-time minimum wage paycheck wouldn't cover daycare costs, which is how I've responded to the suggestion. And then the suggestion gets smarter, evolves to involve the sub-suggestion that I apply for subsidized daycare assistance, known as CAPS (Child and Parent Services), so that the state foots the daycare bills while I do that important thing called work. And what can I say to that suggestion, what can I say as a poor lady? What can I say to the suggestion that I put Graham in a free daycare so that I can spend my days away from him in order to become less poor? All I can think to say is:  NO NO NO NO NO! I have been considering getting a job:  a job that would take place at night while Graham sleeps at home, in his own crib, with his father no more than one room away. It’s true that I've desperately Googled "Athens daycare services" before, but I wouldn't, I couldn't, and I won't ever actually do it. I don't think it's wrong; I think it's impossible. My mom told me that I'm going to have a hard time emotionally letting Graham go to school if we spend the first five years of his life at home together. And what can I say to that besides, Yes, yes I really am.

Quirky maternal observation of the day:  despite popular belief, sweet potatoes make poop softer than do prunes. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A somber love letter

Dear Bethany Cosentino,

It's easy to love someone who loves the things you love, and there's so much in this world to love:  simple things like fresh fruit and Robert Altman films, and less simple things like physics and justice. You love cats, and it makes me feel suddenly that something deep and terrific exists between us, because I love cats too.

"I lost my job
I miss my mom
I wish my cat could talk."

In the early months of my pregnancy I received a phone call from my mom letting me know that Shaniqua, my favorite childhood pet and truly my best friend, was going to have to be euthanized. The vet had discovered a tumor in her stomach. Shaniqua's sickness provided a retrospective explanation for some other problems she had been having, the most notable, and to me the most unsettling, of which was the deterioration of her coat. Shaniqua in recent months had stopped bathing herself, leaving her fur to tangle into knots:  a few of them could be brushed away, but many were so large and unrelenting that my only option was to cut them out, which gave my kitty a ragged, patchy appearance that at first seemed at odds with her playful, vivacious personality. But more and more her spirit came to match her new, ragged look:  she became tired and impatient, and on the day preceding her scheduled death, she was getting about with her front legs only, her back legs dragging lazily behind her.

A few years earlier, Shaniqua yawned in my face during one of our cuddle sessions, alerting me to a cauliflower-like abscess in her mouth, sprouting from underneath her tongue. My mom and I took her to the vet's office immediately, and the vet told us that our kitty probably had a tumor. "I may be able to remove the abscess, but that won't cure the cancer," she told us with a consoling tone. We left Shaniqua at the vet's office overnight so that the abscess and her blood could be tested. We thought she'd have to die the next day, so that night I had wine and Vicodin for dinner and then cried myself to sleep. But the vet called the next morning with amazing news:  the abscess wasn't a cancerous growth, and with just a little bit of tugging it popped out of Shaniqua's mouth just like cauliflower from its stalk. Shaniqua came home totally healthy.

By the time I found out about the growth in Shaniqua's stomach the cancer wasn't just suspected—it was confirmed, so there wasn't any hope for a happy ending, and there also couldn't be any wine. When we thought Shaniqua had a tumor in her mouth, I wanted a tumor too. I wanted to be with her in every way and through everything:  the pain, the medical procedures, even the dying. But this time I was so full of life that I had two heartbeats, mine and little proto-Graham's. We had also just adopted Jeffery the dog—we were in the back yard together when I got the phone call about Shaniqua. I had new lives, I had to keep going, and, as I said, I had to do it without wine.

The songs you sing on "Crazy for You" don't sound inspired by or intended for a kitty; you must've written them to a boy. But the album has a kitty on the cover and the music video for your album's eponymous song contains more cats than a pound. (Actually, the video contains kittens, and although I think pet ageism is a real problem, the kittens in your video do an excellent job both representing and evoking appreciation of innocence, vulnerability and exuberance. These are traits that pets have and also emotional states they inspire in their parents.) But if you're singing to a boy …

"Honey, you're so fine
I wanna be with you all the time."


"I want you
So much
And I miss you
So much."

… why am I talking about my dead cat?

I sometimes imagine myself as a stick of butter on the beach—hot, dissolving and carefree. It's an image that I force my mind into making at times, because otherwise I'm too obsessive. I don't think people know that about me, that I'm an obsessive person, but I don't mind telling you, because I think you understand. (I just heard the song "Sutphin Boulevard" by Blood Orange for the first time twenty hours ago, and I've listened to it twenty times already, but not once every hour, because I've slept some since then. There have probably been four hours where I listened to it five times.) There are dead cats and there are living, unresponsive love objects, and they make me think about the way desire represents an absence, which means that states of longing can be overwhelmingly lonely. Your songs make me wonder things like, What's the point of love anyway, and what especially is the point of a love that is not only unreciprocated and silly but that also—and this is the graver matter—seems only to foreground our loneliness?

"What's the point?" isn't really the right question, because love is inevitable and uncontrollable and—in both a temporal and teleological sense—endless. "How do we deal?" is a better question, and I'm writing this letter, which is actually to anything we love, because Best Coast asks and answers the question. You deal by relaxing, by listening to music that makes you feel like butter at the beach. Rhyming sun and fun and lazy and crazy is easy peasy, and the efforts it takes to keep butter from melting in summer is unnatural. Keep your butter out of the fridge and in public, and let it make a melty mess. Communicate what it feels like to want. Make the word I last seven seconds:  "IIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiiIIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiiIIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiiIIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiiIIIIIIIIII want you so much." The length is longing, which, whether it's for a boy or a kitty, goes on forever. We share with others what can make us, when we're on our own, feel lonely. We are, ultimately, all together. This is what your album tells us, and I appreciate it soooOOOoooOOOooo much.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Maintenance and projects

Sometimes, presumably because I'm a housewife (I'm a housewife? Yes, I'm a housewife), life seems to consist of nothing but maintenance cycles. (Graham is the exception:  he's a project.) Yesterday afternoon as I showered—I rarely have an opportunity to shower before noon—I noticed mildew growing around the bathtub drain, which would be neither surprising nor upsetting if I hadn't scrubbed the tub just five days ago. You may be thinking that I evidently didn't do a very solid scrubbing job, and you may be right. But on the same day I scrubbed the tub I also ridded the house of dust and dander, and I'm certain I was thorough about it:  I swept (not just around furniture, but also under), washed all the linens, and wiped every surface (even the surfaces of books) with a damp rag. But the sun shines through the window today to show that our house is again inundated with dancing dust particles, after just five days. What I did not do five days ago was clip my fingernails, and they're beginning to be too long. It might also be time to shave my legs.

So maintenance cycles are the things you have to do just to redo soon after, and I'm not confident that I can make any sort of convincing distinction between them and projects, but I think projects are the kind of things that move always forward and don't involve nearly as much crazy-making monotony as maintenance cycles. Graham is a project, both mine and his own, but he also involves maintenance. I change his diaper both before and after I change his diaper, and I feed him in between, preceding and following diaper changes, baths, story times, naps, walks and hissy fits, which end and then recur before ending and then recurring again. But the monotony associated with baby maintenance is momentary, because Graham is growing, and he changes between each task. Yesterday he swallowed his food; today he spits it out; someday he'll eat dinner with friends in a restaurant.

Fingernails are not nearly so interesting. Of course I could let them continue to grow, but fingernails don’t grow forward for long—after a while they begin to grow downward and then curl back into themselves, the very picture of a cycle. I'm still haunted by the childhood memory of seeing on the cover of a magazine the world record holder for fingernail length:  they were as big as a Frisbee and not too clean, if I remember right. 

My tub might grow a forest if I let it. 

Signs you're no longer your own project include:  feeling deeply fulfilled over the opportunity to fold laundry; getting excited about running out of milk and cereal at the same time, a coincidence (the uninteresting kind) that makes efficient shopping possible; enjoying eating leftovers; feeling glum when you walk out of the house and into the sun of the porch because you love the sun but also finally get that it's a bit menacing. I understand now why sunburns are bad, just like I understand the urge to hang a "baby on board" notice in the window of your car. I would buy a sign, but I don't think the message is adamant enough to be effective. It should say:  "My cargo includes a person infinitely more important—and also more fragile and innocent and more full of potential for goodness—than either one of us, so don't endanger his innocence or potential by driving reckless near him. I'd rather you drive into a tree alone." But wrecks would ensue if drivers actually attempted to read the long message, which to fit on a sign would also have to be tiny, so I guess it makes sense to be brief and bold. But adding a "damn it" wouldn't really interfere with brevity or boldness. Baby on board damn it. I feel like I sound like my father attempting to replace a broken doorknob when I say the word "damn." He recently told me that he read something I wrote after Googling my name. Great. Hi, dad.

We live with spiders, and each time I see one and consider squishing it with a flip-flop I remember what I learned as a child from the S encyclopedia:  that fewer than two percent of spiders found in North America are dangerous. I guess spiders have projects. They make webs that I’d like to remove from ceiling corners as I dust but don't. And spiders make little babies, which I guess go on to make more dusty webs. So maybe if I did get squish the spiders I wouldn't have such endless dust troubles. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dessert and marital deceit

During Graham's first month out of the womb our family received benefits through the Woman Infant Child (WIC) program. We applied because we were unprepared for my inability to produce breastmilk and especially unprepared for the resultant cost burden of infant formula, which was sharper in the first month than it is now—even though Graham eats more now than he did then—because we spent the first month feeding Graham with a supplementary nursing system, a contraption that allows a non-breastfed baby to nonetheless feed at the breast and that can only—this is the WIC-related part—be used with ready-to-feed (already liquid) formula, which costs significantly more than the powdered formula Graham now eats. So that's why my family stole your tax dollars:  because my boobs were broken and I wanted to trick Grahamie into thinking they weren't long enough for us to bond through meals eaten at the breast.

WIC applicants must meet with a WIC nutritionist in order to be granted food or formula vouchers. I'm not sure what the purpose of the meeting is. (The WIC office I visited also had among its staff lactation consultants, and the organization, along with everyone else in the world, exhorts mothers to breastfeed, so you might assume that the nutritionist is there to reveal the tenets of a healthy diet as a way of promoting the production of quality breastmilk. That's what I assumed at first, but I can think of two facts that seem to undermine that assumption:  1. WIC vouchers for food entitle the mother to the "cheapest brand" of eggs, milk and cheese, and cheap often means, among other unhealthy things, hormone-ridden; and 2. I'm a pretty healthy girl—I consume the right amount of fruits and vegetables daily; I am careful to eat iron-rich leafy greens and take iron supplements, knowing that womanhood and vegetarianism make one at risk of anemia; I assiduously track how many grams of protein I intake each day; if I go to a restaurant with a meat-eater and she says, "You can get a salad," I am nutritionally intelligent enough to regard my co-diner as a nutritional dummy … All of which is to say:  I don't think poor nutrition is primarily to blame when a mother doesn't produce breastmilk, so I doubt a nutritionist's ability to solve production problems.

The WIC nutritionist grilled me—like I was cheese sandwich—about my eating habits, which, as I just finished bragging, are pretty good … if you overlook the fact that I eat dessert every night, unless I have a drink instead, and, to be honest, on some occasions it's an and/both situation rather than an either/or one. And when it is "just dessert" it's still not actually just dessert:  I usually have a giant block of chocolate (cake, brownie, or a candy bar) and a glass of milk, and until a few months ago, I drank whole milk, because, despite the health nut identity I affect, the truth is that I am a fucking glutton. 

I figured the WIC nutritionist would give me a talking to once he found out about the dessert damage I willingly, eagerly do to my body daily, but he didn't. He gave Aron one! He stopped speaking to me altogether, and he looked at Aron and said, "At night when she wants a snack, just slice up some fruit, toss it in a blender and make her a smoothie." And then what? Shove me to the ground and plug my nose to stop my breathing until I'm forced to open my mouth? A smoothie? Be for real! The truly insulting part of all this is that the nutritionist was attempting to convince Aron that a smoothie could be comparably satisfying to a brownie and a mug of whole milk. Yeah. Right.

The meeting with the nutritionist took place almost half a year ago, and I had every intention of disregarding his advice and never thinking of his cruel face or preposterous suggestion again. But as Aron took our week's worth of recycling out Sunday night for collection Monday morning, he noticed that our recyclables included two pints—rather than the usual single pint—of ice cream. There were, however, no wine bottles in the recycling. Aron usually has a glass or two of wine a night, but this week he replaced wine with ice cream. Which is fine. But now he wants to replace ice cream with fruit smoothies, which he plans to make with flax milk—not even yogurt!—and berries.

"Please, don't take the sugar out of our marriage," I pleaded. "There's sugar in fruit," Aron replied cold-heartedly. He's being very clever about it:  he's making smoothie pops, like a smoothie but on a popsicle. I guess that's cool. I'm not going to eat a smoothie at night, because I associate smoothies with exercise and worry the "dessert" would interfere with my sleep in a Pavlovian sort of way—not that I've ever actually eaten a smoothie before exercising, but it's certainly an idea that exists in pop culture, and it's wise not to underestimate pop culture's influence on an ordinary human life. But in the interest of solidarity, as Aron eats his smoothie pop tonight, I will support him by foregoing my block of chocolate and having instead a cup of tea with honey, which should be easy enough since I just sneaked a Snickers ice cream bar while Aron and Graham were napping.

Shhh …

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What I want ... to want

I am sometimes struck by the desire to get fit, a desire that to be realized would require that I start running and stop eating dessert everyday. I am not opposed to running, but I'm also not any good at it. The only time in my life that I could run a mile was when Aron and I lived in an apartment with an exercise room that no one ever used and that had a broken treadmill in it. It wasn't non-functionally broken—it still served its primary purpose of being a machine to run on, but all of its digital trackings were way off. I didn't initially realize they were off. I trusted them when they indicated to me that I had run a mile in eight minutes, and I was so pleased with my eight minute mile that after a week of running it once a day I overcame my exercise-shyness (which is not shyness so much as shame over my unfitness and un-endurance) and decided to run publicly, among my peers at the UGA gym. That's where I realized, after being able to complete only a little more than half a mile in the time I "had been" running a full one, that the treadmill in the apartment complex's workout room was a broken deceiver. I would return to the UGA gym to use the elliptical and then become too discouraged to do even that after hearing it said by real exercisers that three miles on the elliptical—which I'm barely capable of—is a decidedly less rigorous exercise than a mere mile on the treadmill. I don't belong in the gym. I have nothing in common with exercisers. It shocks me that they listen to music through headphones while they're running. I don't, because I need to be able to aurally monitor my breathing and determine how close to dying I am. It would be neat, I sometimes think, to have a jogging stroller for me/Graham, but every time I see a child being pushed around by an athletic parent, the child's body is bent in a way that looks not only awkward but also painful. The baby-body within the jogging stroller is almost invariably shaped like a backwards, lowercase r, and the older child's body within the stroller takes the shape of a backwards, upside down, uppercase L. No matter the letter or the age on the child, a neck ache is sure to follow. Shyness and anxiety are the two main staples of my psyche, so not having a jogging stroller is not what keeps my goal of getting fit from becoming a reality. It's the fact that there isn't a single spot in the world that I can visit in workout shorts where at least one lightcone—the pervasive lightcone of the sun, the merging lightcones of headlights, the moon's comparatively kind lightcone—doesn't hit. Also, I have asthma.

Occasionally I look at my eyebrows in the mirror and want to pluck them or have them waxed. And if I got them waxed, I on these occasions think, I might as well also get a facial. I actually have had a facial before, and the experience was shockingly uncomfortable because it involved the removal of my shirt (the chest, evidently, belongs to the face), and I remember the beautician who administered my facial saying, "You can keep your bra on," with a tone that silently added, "if you're a total prude," which I was and remain. On the occasions that the reflected image of my eyebrows makes me think of the word wolf, which also become occasions where I notice oily constellations on my nose that make me think French fry-amoeba, I decide that if I were to pay someone to yank hair and squeeze grease from my face, I might as well also buy a massage. Sometimes I want to pay strangers to touch me so that I can stop staring at the messes on my face. Sometimes I want to pay someone to punch me in the neck.

At least twice a week I want a cigarette break.

But what I want most persistently is to begin each day by sitting next to Graham on his pillow-blanket pallet and reading a poem or two by both Adrienne Rich and William Carlos Williams. And this is in fact how our days begin, after I start the coffee and wash the dish off of which I ate dessert the night before while Graham, after a diaper change, gets a bit of exercise in his bouncy chair. This morning we read "The Sparrow" for the first time (and then a second and third). I love that poem:  it's both hilarious and ominous. Graham usually holds one of his cloth books while I read from a paper book, which I hope helps him to develop muscle memory for reading. I am deeply interested in the future and the health of his brain. I don't think having the hobby of reading is sufficient for smarts, but I think it's likelier to cultivate a love of learning than watching TV, which is another hobby I have. If I am going to impart a hobby onto Graham just by having that hobby in his presence, I'd much prefer it be the hobby of reading or cooking than watching teevee. Aron and I do enjoy watching TV (on the computer via Hulu and Netflix), but we only watch once Graham is asleep, and we keep the volume low enough so that Graham can't hear it, which is less for fear of waking him than for fear of him learning language that resembles television show dialogue, even though we primarily watch comedies and I certainly want him to develop a sense of humor—it should develop from his own sense of self, from things like the faint infant memory of hearing his mother say, "I want to be Graham's first girlfriend." (Aron's response:  "Oh, you're going to be one of those weird moms?") I do listen to episodes of "This American Life" with Graham, but because the narratives it presents are so varied I regard the radio program as expanding rather than training his personality.

These activities are actually as much about me as they are about Graham, maybe more, but hopefully not. They're about my most persistent non-parental desire—to be always absorbed by a poem or a story. Graham is involved by default in everything I am and everything I want, and it's fortunate that my love of stories and poems isn't a detriment to him the way smoking, which I only want to do infrequently, would be. Graham is so good for me, and I want to be good for him.

I'm in the middle of the novel Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle, who says in interviews that he spends the first four or five hours of each day writing. If I said I was jealous I should also be able to say that this is the way I formerly, before becoming a mother, began my days. I'm not jealous, and while I regret not having spent more of the free time I used to have in abundance on writing stories, the quality of a life that involves sharing my joy with Graham, by reading poems to him, will always be high. Being absorbed in poems and stories is the desire I desire. When I don't want to read, I want to want to read. Reading and writing are more pleasing than any other pleasures, and when the desire to read or write disappears it's like the arrow of life is gone. That's how serious it is.

So I'm really counting on Graham to be first my listener, then a reader himself, and finally a writer. Actually, all I require of Graham for now is that he naps long enough for me to write a poem or read a few chapters, a requirement with which he never fails to comply. And of course at some point he'll have to let me be his girlfriend. And I would love it if he wanted to play baseball. What I am trying to do is balance my own desire to read and write with my desire to do a bang-up job raising Graham, and I want him to be a part of everything that matters to me without making the mistake of pinning all my hopes on or burdening him with my dreams. I don't want to bore him, I don't want to burden him, and I don't want to leave him out. 

A definite merit of reading is that it's an inexpensive pastime, especially if you stick to novels written by Thomas Pynchon's sister Penny. Get it? Penny Pynchon.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

The bird of boredom

Possible cures for poverty-related boredom include making pasta dishes and taking walks. Pasta, actually, is a stone capable of killing two poverty birds:  the bird of boredom, as I just mentioned, and the bird of food expenses. At Trader Joe's a bag of bowtie pasta containing eight servings costs only 99 cents, making it the perfect food for the 99%. But of course you can't eat pasta plain (unless you're a genuine poor person and not just playing one in the blogosphere), but if you're like me (that is, not genuinely or dangerously poor), your refrigerator contains random cheeses, which you can add to pasta for flavor and a protein boost. In addition to being cheap, pasta has pretty impressive protein content, so adding cheese isn't nutritionally necessary. There probably isn't anything about cheese that's nutritionally necessary. (A serving of tofu contains as much calcium as a serving of milk or cheese. And while I'm parenthetically comparing foods, I would like to share my personal favorite food fact:  ounce for ounce, split peas contain almost as much protein as most cuts of steak.) So, to fill some time and some stomachs, shake some pasta with cheese and olive oil.

Luckily, one of the cheeses in my fridge was crumpled goat, and I also had grape tomatoes and pesto, so my pasta salad looked and tasted pretty fancy—fancier, anyway, than it would've if all I had had was a block of cheddar. The pasta salad has lasted for days and only cost a few dollars to fix, but to be honest there's no real money-saving secret here. I also made egg salad for cheap, because I happened to already have eggs.

Walks are free, naps are free, books are free to read.

When Aron got home from work today I was in the middle of writing out a shopping list, which wasn't entirely necessary because I only needed three things from the store, and three is an easy number of things to remember. But my list-making did the trick I intended it to do:  it made Aron ask if I needed to go to the store. Yes, I needed to, but there was also desire there, because, well, no matter how much I love Graham, and I love him tremendously, it is endlessly frustrating to me that he has to whine, toss and turn, and scratch the skin off my face and neck for an hour before he will submit to taking the nap that his crankiness makes obvious he needs. As he gets more interested in the world—moving through it, looking at it, touching the things it contains—he becomes less willing to sleep, and his resistance is angry, and it exhausts me. And because Graham only stays asleep for about thirty minutes at a time during the day, we engage in the pre-nap battle at least twice a morning. It exhausts me, both times. Graham spent practically all night last night practicing rolling over in his crib, which is three feet from where I sleep, and every sound he makes—even if happy—keeps me awake. So today I was exhausted before noon, and exhausted-er after the nap battles, so I told Aron that yes, I needed to go the store. I went. 

I went to Target, where I returned a digital camera memory card that we bought there a few months ago and that ended up not matching our camera. While I was in the line at the return counter, I heard customers talking about a fist fight that had just happened in the store, and an employee was mopping a spot on the floor where, I assume because I want to, a pool of blood had collected during the fight.

I never know in advance whether something will relieve or aggravate my boredom. Maybe I'll enjoy looking at Eric's pictures on Facebook, or maybe they'll just make me feel ever farther from the ocean than I am. Maybe I'll like to watch Mad Men, or maybe it'll just makes me wish moodily that I could so freely drink. Maybe a trip downtown to have a coffee will feel vacation-y, but it might just make Athens feel like a larger version of my house, where I chore-out my existence. But I don't doubt at all that I was fortunate to miss the fist fight, which I'm sure was pretty frightening.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Family & money

I had to ask my dad yesterday to lend me money to pay for the part of my summer tuition that the Pell Grant won't be covering. When I first called to ask for the loan, he said, "I'm not saying yes, but I'm not saying no. I'll call you back." When he called back he said yes, and in the same conversation he went on to say no. During our first conversation, when he answered not-yes/not-no, he expelled a heavy sigh and, at the same time, asked for my address. And in the yes-then-no conversation, he said, "Mother is so skeptical." He meant his mother, my Mimi. He, I gather, had called her to ask either if she'd lend me the money or if she'd lend him the money so that he could in turn lend it to me, and she, I guess, expressed skepticism regarding my request to borrow money. I don't know the exact nature of her skepticism. I don't know whether she doubts that I'd use the money for school, whether she doubts that I'm even in school, or whether she doubts that I actually need the money. Mimi always takes note of my weight since I had Graham, and her most recent assessment was this:  "Your body must feel like you've totally deserted it." I guess she's a dualist. And maybe her skepticism is a form of philosophical idealism. Maybe she doubts the external world altogether. And maybe she meant that I've totally dessert-ed my body; if so, she's right.

Mimi and I speak regularly, and she knows the facts of my former and present life. Formerly, Aron and I were both working, had the HOPE scholarship and lived, just the two of us, in a tiny, dirty and cheap apartment. Presently, Aron is the only one with a paying job, we've both exhausted our HOPE hours, and we live, with a baby and a dog, in a larger, clean, not-as-cheap house. I'm in no way suggesting that the fact that my life has become more expensive means that I am entitled to financial help from my family—I'm not entitled to it, and I feel ashamed having to ask. All I'm saying is that if Mimi doubts that I need the money I asked her son to lend me, then she must be willfully misunderstanding my empirical situation. I'm also saying that it is simply unreasonable to not recognize that the Hall family gets poorer as it grows more mouths and backs and as its working members diminish. That's all I'm saying. But maybe Mimi isn't being unreasonably skeptical. Maybe she believes I need money and only questions how I'd spend it.

So, I addressed Mimi's more reasonable worries—that I wouldn't use the money for school, or worse, that I'm not even in school—with a single statement. My dad said his mother was skeptical, so I said to my dad:  "If she were willing to lend me the money, she could pay the school directly." He said, "Would you call and tell her that?" And because he had so sweetly agreed to help me, even saying that I wouldn't have to pay him back, I said, "Sure, I'll call her." Essentially what I'm supposed to do is try to borrow money from Mimi instead of from my dad, but just the idea of asking Mimi for a loan is way scarier than the reality of asking my dad for one, which was plenty scary itself. She believes in personal accountability. Her central political tenet is that able-bodied individuals should work and support themselves. She'd probably tell me to get a job.

Well, I already thought of that. As soon as I found out that I'm ineligible for loans this summer, I told Aron I would get a job at a restaurant and work the nights that he doesn't. He thinks it's a bad idea. He thinks it'd be bad for our marriage. I think being evicted wouldn't be too good for our marriage. A strip club downtown called Toppers is hiring; the sign says they're hiring "any." I asked Aron, "What if I got a job there?" It was a ridiculous what-if, because we both know that I even hate getting naked for showers, but Aron responded anyway:  "I wouldn't like it," he said. And I said, "I know you wouldn't. You don't even want me to get a job in a restaurant." And he said that he doesn't want me to work in a restaurant because he thinks I don't want to work in a restaurant. I'd only be doing it, he says, out of financial desperation. Well, yeah. If I worked three, seven-hour shifts at minimum wage, we'd make close to $500 a month more than we make now. And Graham goes to sleep early-ish, so I'd only be gone during two of his waking hours if I worked evening shifts. Getting a job seems like the logical thing to do.


As I typed what I have written above, I missed a call from Mimi, who left an impatient-sounding message asking that I return her call, which I did right away. She agreed to lend me the money and said she wanted to send it directly to me, but I told her that it turns out that I won't need a loan after all, which isn't altogether true, but accepting a loan from her is not actually any less unnerving than asking for one, even though she was very nice about it. (Aron and I have a plan, a good one.) Mimi admitted to feeling reluctant initially to lend me the money, but she vehemently denied that she doubted I would spend the money on school. She said she was reluctant initially because she wanted me to take the summer off. Here's how hard it is to be a stay-at-home mom:  being in a Latin class four hours a day feels like taking a break. Women who strip surely have bathroom and lunch breaks. Mothers may, but they also may not.

Mimi asked when I'll graduate and what career I'm pursuing. These have become extremely vexing questions. I'm trying.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Health and comedy

So I'm kind of working on, but mostly just thinking about working on, a play that has two characters—a man and a woman, formerly romantically involved, recently separated—and that concerns the two characters' careers as much as it concerns their failed relationship. They're both comedians, and during their dating years they lived together, and they had always stored all their material in a single filing cabinet, and since he's moving out they have to divide the contents of the cabinet, which puts them together one last time telling jokes. But then they encounter some conflict when they can't always determine to whom certain jokes properly belong. So he, for example, wrote a joke, but its humor and efficacy hinge on something she told him her mother said, so she comes to contest his total ownership of the joke. But if they divide the jokes further, into their constituent parts, they're just not funny anymore. And she may not even be funny to begin with, or at least, according to him, she's not always funny.

                                    When am I not funny?

                                    I'll tell you when.
                                                            (rummages through papers)
                                    This is yours.
                                    "Wouldn't it be great if you could kill yourself … but just for a few days? Carry your consciousness into nothingness and just, you know, sit there for a while?" You know why that joke doesn't work, Schopenhauer?

                                    Why, Gallagher?

                                    Well, first of all it's grim as fuck. But its next problem is logic. How do you sit in nothingness? What do you sit on?

Ultimately my goal is to have the play turn from a comedy into a tragedy (because they kill all their jokes), but that's an insane goal to have for (at least) two reasons:  1. I'd have to come up with a bunch of jokes and also interesting ways to destroy them, and 2. No one believes in the possibility of tragic theatre anymore. Aron is always making really funny jokes, so maybe the first problem can be resolved by tape-recording him. When they first put up these traffic signs in Athens that say, "NO CRUISING ZONE," Aron looked at one and said, "Sorry, Tom." That's just one example of literally billions.

I love comedy, which isn't, unfortunately, the same as being good at it, although I do believe that the ability to appreciate good comedy contributes in a major way to the quality an individual's character, which might at this point sound like bragging. It might just be subjective preference, but I doubt it:  probably 95% of Dane Cook fans are bad people, and probably 95% of Liz Feldman fans are good people. For Louis CK it's probably a 50-50 spread, because almost all of his jokes wear the face of Janus. Anyway, I love comedy so much that I wish I could major in comedy in college—but I guess majoring in philosophy (I'm switching back, again, from women's studies) is sort of like majoring in comedy, insofar as it's laughable that a 20-something year old would ever think she's in the position to address a question like, "Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?"

Anyway, I’m talking about comedy because I think my health depends on it. My emotions have been all over the place lately, and I have been behaving self-destructively (letting myself become dehydrated) and entertaining emotions that are ridiculous (I was incensed to learn that Kate Hudson, who is neither talented nor attractive, and Gael Garcia Bernal, who would be my husband if Aron weren't, will be playing love interests in a movie called A Little Bit of Heaven, so my anger is actually jealousy over Kate Huson's fictional character's romantic involvement with Gael Garcia Bernal's fictional character—she has cancer, and he's a sexy doctor). I've been reading Are You My Mother? (after that I'll read Heidegger's Introduction to Metaphysics for a third time this week), and Bechdel's book is so fantastic that I know I'll be slightly depressed when it's over. The memoir calls itself "a comic drama," but I think it's more drama than comedy; if it were more comedy than drama, I wouldn't be sad for it to end. And that's one of the many things that makes good comedy so great:  it's nothing to get upset about.

Here's another thing that's so great about comedy:  "You are a really good friend, and you threw a really great abortion." That's a line from the new HBO series "Girls," and in context and with Lena Dunham's delivery, it's a really nice joke, and the great thing about comedy that it illustrates is that comedy has no limits. Sarah Silverman has a hilarious rape joke. So anything that might feel unbearable might, if you can make a good joke about it, actually not be. Maybe art generally has this ability, but I privilege comedy. I always have to look up how to spell privilege. For some reason I always want to put a "d" in it. That's what he said. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The jerk

The last thing I want to be is a jerk, but there are so many ways to be a jerk that you really have to careful. I'm pretty confident that I am in some ways not a jerk. I never tip less than 25%, and I don't just act but actually am grateful when anyone works to provide me a service, like a cashier at a grocery store, so I always mean it when I say, "Thank you." But sometimes I'm not such a sweetheart.

Today I drank a pint of coffee at Walker's, which is four fewer ounces than a Venti at Starbucks, so save your shock! Just kidding. I'm sure you weren't shocked. But the drink does look fairly colossal, I think, sitting there in that giant beer mug. I went to Walker's in order to finish a take-home final, and the booth I sat at, unlike most booths at Walker's, didn't have its own electrical outlet, which wasn't a problem initially because I arrived with my laptop fully charged. (I wonder if it's only to my generation that nothing I've said so far seems like a non-sequitur. I had a final; I needed a charged laptop.) Even though I arrived with a full battery charge, I worried a bit that the battery life might get low before I would be able to finish my assignment, so I glanced at the booth adjacent to mine, where a blonde girl who was probably pretty sat, and I noticed that her booth had an outlet. This blonde girl also had a computer (everyone everywhere always has a computer), but it was turned off, and so I assumed that meant that the outlet would remain available should I need it, in which case I figured that I could simply ask the girl if I could borrow use of the outlet at her booth. This is a plan I made as an immediate thought process, unlike this extended summary of it. So I started to work on my final, and after about 15 minutes the blonde girl looked in my direction and said, "Excuse me?" I didn't immediately acknowledge her because it didn't seem like she had any reason to bother me. She had a plug, I didn't: I should be the one bothering her. I don't mean that mean-spiritedly:  it's just that I didn't realize she was addressing me. Had I had an electrical outlet at my booth and she had not had one at hers, I would've acknowledged her "Excuse me?" immediately, because I in all likelihood would have already noted that she might come to a point where she would need to use the outlet at my booth. Once I realized that the girl was indeed addressing me, I looked up from my assignment and at her face, and I heard her say, "I'm going to the bathroom, so could you just keep an eye on my stuff?" This is not an odd request statistically speaking, but practically speaking it is VERY odd. Was she asking that I intervene should someone attempt to steal her things? She looked rich. What does that mean? It means she dressed rich. What does that mean? It means I've seen her clothes on mannequins in the windows of boutiques downtown. It means she wore a decorative cardigan, the kind that makes no sense, the kind without sleeves. It's fine if she's rich. But if she's rich, then protecting her computer from a thief is not an inherently worthwhile thing to do. Things that are inherently worthwhile can, and maybe even should, be done for free. Almost everything else is a job, and jobs should pay. (There is overlap that I am knowingly not addressing.) Am I suggesting that this girl should pay me to watch her things? Yes, yes I am. If she wants me to intervene in a robbery of her goods, I think she should pay me. If she were poor and wore a real cardigan, the kind with sleeves, watching her things would amount to preserving some small piece of justice in the world. But that didn't appear to be the case. She asked, "Could you just keep an eye on my stuff?", and I wanted to say, "I am a mother. When I'm not at Walker's for an hour to do schoolwork, I am at home, expending all of my energies cultivating a human life. I do not care about your machine." It's true. I spend my life feeding, cuddling, and reading to Graham, and trying, at the same time, to make sure he develops a sense of humor, empathy, and, with walks along the river and underneath trees, love and respect for the natural world.

In Sweden this is a job that, at least for a short period, pays. I used to feel guilty about getting student loans. Now I feel like I'm just getting a paycheck for being a mother. I just have to give the paycheck back after I graduate.

Aron is going out with his old man friend tonight for three pints, but I think after he has his third he'll probably feel like having a fourth. It's $2 pint night at Copper Creek, so it won't break the bank any more than it's already always broken. What makes me feel like a jerk is my desire to remind Aron that Sunday is Mother's Day. I'm considering my phrasing options, which I've narrowed down to two:  1. Enjoy your beery evening. Oh, by the way, Sunday is Mother's Day; or, 2. Oh, three pints. That's half a pint for every month I've been a mother, unless you count the nine that I was pregnant. Aron actually already knows that Sunday is Mother's Day, and he actually has also already gotten me a very fabulous gift (Alision Bechdel's new memoir, Are You My Mother?). It's just that I want a break from the baby that involves pints. But even during my one hour at Walker's I missed the baby like crazy:  I feel full of dread when we're apart, and I always get a tummy ache about it. But that's just stress, and stress is a problem that the pints are likely to solve. 

Just be nice, Amy!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Needs, wants, complaints--and I'm not talking about a baby.

I have a research paper due soon, so naturally I want to do something drastic and time-consuming like rearrange the furniture in the house or adopt a non-potty-trained animal. And actually my present desperation is more intense than usual. It's the norm that Aron and I rearrange furniture in the days leading up to a major assignment's due date. But I want to change things up in a bigger way. I don't want to put the sofa against this wall of the living room rather than that wall of the living room. I want to put the sofa in the bedroom, the bed in the living room, the fridge in the bathroom. I want to challenge and, through challenging, dismantle the essentialism of home furniture arrangement.

I had an awkward academic advising experience yesterday, one that occasionally approached a level of discomfort characteristic of a police interrogation (as represented in a bad comedy). My advisor called me a "non-traditional student," which shocked me, because I was under the impression that that designation was reserved for students who are parents and old, and while I'm certainly the first I don't like to think that I'm the second, though of course it's true, as I've often said before, I'm old for an undergraduate. I'm old for an undergrad because I treat school like a hobby rather than a job. From a practical perspective, which I'm capable of entertaining only a few moments at a time, it's a problem that school is a hobby for me. Practicality demands that school is a bridge leading to a job. Youthful idealism, the kind that not even my old age of 24 has shaken, allows school to just be a bridge. A bridge is a connective path that turns non-traversable space into traversable space. But a bridge is also nice just to be on, for the height, light-headedness and views it affords. What I'm trying to say is that it's awkward to interact with an advisor advising under the impression that I'm interested in graduating, which is always, of course, the impression that an academic advisor operates under.

I have a little paranoia. Sometimes I feel like people are being really mean to me, when they're probably just being average and maybe even slightly nice. For instance, earlier today I had a difficult time getting Graham into his Johnny Jump Up, the bouncy swing/chair that hangs from a door frame, because Graham kept grabbing onto the device's straps and wildly kicking his legs. Having a tough time, I said to Aron, "Can you put Graham in here? This is making me crazy." But instead of putting Graham in his seat, Aron pulled the straps aside so that I could place Graham in his seat myself, which felt, to me and in the moment, like a mean thing to do. It felt paternalistic, like his action suggested that he was going to teach me to fish rather than fish for me. 

All this fish and bridge imagery reminds me of a poem I wrote Tuesday. On Tuesday I washed our sheets, and as I made the bed after the sheets were clean I thought about when I was young and had to have help making my bed, and my helper and I would communicate to each other with our hands the length of sheet hanging over our respective side of the bed, and then we'd continue tugging the sheet back and forth until we achieved equal sheet lengths. I thought about that, and then I thought, as I often do, because I fear them and love them, about sharks. And this is the poem I produced immediately after making the bed by myself:

The capital of equality is along the equator
a part of it in the sea where no boats even go
It is the metropolis of moods that move like waves
We all, all of us, go there everyday
It's a spot the movements of water take you to
If you're one of those scuba tourists
the tour boat leaves behind
you might wind up along the equator
and among things eaten just because
Otherwise you'll return to shore with a sunburn
if there's justice, and no sunburn if there's not

So anyway, like I said, sometimes I think people are being mean. I thought my advisor was being mean. I know I have some core classes left to take, like a PE and a non-lab science, but I don't need to be told to take them. If an advisor thinks that I need to be told to take these classes, then that must mean that she thinks I'm distinctly incompetent. That must mean that she thinks I've been in college forever not because I enjoy taking classes that don't get me any closer to graduating but rather because I haven't figured out what classes to take in order to graduate. I know what I need, but instead I just do what I want. I'm not saying I deserve to be recognized favorably for what essentially amounts to academic hedonism, but I don't want to be regarded harshly as an idiot who's accidentally been taking the wrong classes for six years. I'm the idiot who's been taking the wrong classes on purpose, okay? Or maybe what happened during advisement yesterday was that I got reprimanded in some new, weird way. Or maybe I simply got advised and all the negative feelings I'm experiencing are manifestations of the guilt and shame I feel deep down over the fact that I am a perpetual undergrad. I probably really need to graduate. Probably. Really.

But before I do I'm going to have to write my research paper. I haven't even decided on a topic yet. The problem is that I can't think. It's actually worse than not being able to think:  it's being boring. I am bored and boring. I have nine books to select a topic from for my research paper, and certainly nine books contain many, many, many more than nine possible topics, but nothing excites me.

There's A Visit from the Goon Squad, which the Los Angeles Times calls "the smartest book you can get your hands on"—a daunting review, one that debases the reader before the thing read, which of course makes sense. It all feels like that. Every book feels like that. Every book is already a book, a published book, a book that made it, and a smart book. It feels like a mean trick that anyone would expect me to be able to write a paper about a book. I think assignments are out to get me? I really feel at times that my life would be enhanced by the introduction of some sort of prescription mood stabilizer.

I really would adopt a kitten or a puppy in order to have a good, or at least a living, reason to not be able to focus on my paper, but Aron and I are broke until the summer semester starts, and an adoption fee can pay for a week's worth of groceries. Since I can't adopt an animal, I'm doing something else that feels drastic. I'm staying off Facebook. That's the plan. I get that it's stupid to regard this as a drastic action. The fact that staying off will be at all difficult is something that makes me feel disappointed in myself. But I'm fixing that.

I had to submit an application to become a women's studies major. Oh yeah, I switched majors. This is the fourth time I've switched since beginning college a century ago. (It went:  sociology, English, philosophy, women's studies.) One of the questions on the application was this:  What do you plan to do after you graduate? I left it blank, because I refuse to share my fantasies with others. "Following the publication of my first novel, I'm going to go on a European book tour with my husband and son, staying only in seaside villages that have four or more vegetarian restaurants." What am I going to do after I graduate? What am I going to do? How am I supposed to know?

Aron said last night that the thinks that there's no way that I can be only a mother my whole life, which initially felt like an insult. What Aron meant, he went on to explain, is that he thinks I have interests and abilities besides parenting that are worth pursuing. And that's really nice of him. And I really hope he's right.