Saturday, June 30, 2012

I think, therefore I spam

Figuring it might be an acronym, I entered "spam definition" into the Google search box and was resulted with the following:  "A canned meat product made mainly from ham." That is a beautiful definition—heavily alliterative, iambic pentameter-ish—of an ugly thing. But I hadn't meant to search for the food definition of spam, so I modified my search to "spam definition computer," and the first result provided by Google was this:  "Spam is most often considered to be electronic junk mail or junk newsgroup postings." These definitional investigations were done in an effort to determine whether my post title makes sense (and, like I mentioned, to see if spam was an acronym), and since I'm going to be writing about internet advertisements generally—and not about junk emails—the answer my inquiries provide is no, my post title doesn't make sense. I know that. I admit it. It makes no sense in a lot of ways.

But maybe the food definition of spam relates in some small way to advertisements online, since one of the most frequent ads displayed to me when I log into Facebook is for McDonalds. And that's just senseless. I've heard that Facebook has access to everyone's profile information (it would be more surprising if Facebook didn't have such access), and I don't know what about me makes me seem like a good target for McDonalds advertisements. I'm a college student who likes Margaret Atwood and pop music that isn't popular (and that's just senseless also)—I'm obviously, or at least probably, a vegetarian.

This morning I opened a message in my Gmail account (the only kind of message I tend to receive:  the kind I send myself), and I saw at the bottom of the email an advertisement for Dodge truck floormats:  an entire set for one hundred and something dollars. I'm flattered that Gmail thinks that I own a car, even if it's a Dodge Gmail thinks I own, but I'm also pretty perplexed. Luckily, Gmail provides little links—next to the products it pushes on you—that say, "Why this ad?" I was already half wondering about the floormat ad, so I clicked "Why this ad?" and was greeted with this eerie explanation:  "These ads are based on emails from your mailbox." Spies! Gmail has been reading the emails I write to myself about car accessories. Some are erotic, part of a series I call 50 Shades of, Hey, Where'd You Get that Clutch?

If I want to avoid ads on Facebook or Gmail—or if I take issue with the invasiveness of advertising—the solution is simply to stop using Facebook and Gmail. But Gmail is a nice email service, and I need a Gmail account to access this blog, and I need this blog like I need a new set of Dodge floormats. Maybe now that I've complained while logged in my Gmail account about ads on Gmail I'll start getting advertisements targeted at individuals who are tired of or irked by advertisements. Maybe I need to divulge that I drive a Camry. 

Hulu sometimes asks viewers to choose which "ad experience" they want. Last night Aron and I watched "The Daily Show" and were given the chance to choose which of three (brace yourselves, this is exciting!) Buick (yes, BUICK!) advertisements to watch (obviously Hulu didn't get the message from Gmail about my Dodge), but we chose not to choose and instead waited 10 or 12 seconds for a random one to start. I don't know why we won't simply choose an ad when given the chance—and I don't know what we'd base our selection on if we made one. Aron and I are indignant about not choosing, as if we're proving a point to Hulu about ad experiences. I don't think dreams even qualify as experiences proper, so any ordinary ad probably doesn't either. But an extraordinary ad …

Facebook has also shown me advertisements for Samsung phones and Swiffer Sweepers, both of which make a little more sense than the McDonlads ads. I could conceivably be swayed to buy a cell phone (and I'm probably at a cell phone-y age), and I certainly belong to a group of women known and expected to sweep. Sometimes Facebook shows me ads for products that my friends have "liked," which really makes me want to tell my friends to stop "liking"—in the Facebook sense of the word—things. My cousin likes Always maxipads. I, too, bleed from the vagina, so Facebook has sponsored ads to me from Always, which probably wouldn't happen if I hadn't told Facebook that I'm a lady. Facebook has recommended that I might like the NRA, which I like as much as McDonalds. Facebook has suggested that I might want to be a sonographer. Facebook is right. I might.

The only advertisements that I am knowingly moved by are for alcohol. If there were a commercial for a Swiffer Sweeper drinking a Bacardi and Coke I might buy one—a Swiffer sweeper that is, but I would only use it if I had already had two or more Bacardi and Cokes). The only alcohol ads that don't move me are the ones that talk in any way about calories. It's not like alcohol ads before Miller 64 had a bunch of fatties in them. Sexy, skinny people drink tequila—why would they need to go on a drinking diet? I remember going to Midtown Arts Cinema and seeing beautiful and clever Stella Artois ads. It's always impossible for me to not want a Stella (Stella!!!), but it's even impossibler after seeing a gorgeous ad. I'm so swayable. I am not opposed to spending. There are things I buy. There are things I want.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"I believe in sweetness and light."

I once heard that it's a trick of psychics to tell their customers, "You would like to write a novel." It's a trick because practically everyone wants, at least in some vague and occasional way, to write a novel. If someone guesses that you'd like to write a novel, she isn't seeing into your soul:  she's seeing into your ordinariness. It's like guessing that someone who's wearing gloves has cuticles.

"I believe in sweetness and light," is part of novelist Kate Christensen's response to the question, "Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of America?" The question was asked of forty-one American writers and thinkers. In a few of the responses I read, the respondents noted that pessimism and optimism are emotional dispositions that may not relate to objective realities:  to be optimistic doesn't mean that America's prospects are objectively good and to be pessimistic doesn't mean that America's prospects are bad—an optimistic attitude likely reveals more about the individual who has it than about the world that individual inhabits. Christensen, one of my favorite writers, begins her response by saying, "I am an optimist by nature, and a comic writer; all my novels, dark as they are, end with an uplift." She believes in sweetness and light, "but," she writes, "there are some very good reasons to be direly pessimistic about the future of this country, which has come to feel like an amalgam of corporatocracy, fascist police state, and mini-mall." I think that today, the day the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, Kate Christensen can go on believing in some sweetness and light.

Some people are pissed about the Affordable Care Act, pissed, curiously enough, at the President and not at the Chief Justice. (I'm sure there isn't a thing in the world that we're all unanimously happy about, probably not even sweetness and light.) Here's a Facebook status update that showed up on my newsfeed today:  "Can't wait until November to get this dumbass out of the White House and get someone who is really going to fight for what is right in our country!!!" The person who wrote this is a real friend, not merely a Facebook acquaintance. She and her partner bought my family a giant box of diapers after Graham was born. My Facebook friend list got significantly smaller after Trayvon Martin died. A lot of white people showed up on my newsfeed claiming that either racism doesn't exist (that a white person is presumptuous enough to declare the death of racism seems more than a bit racist to me) or that white people are the real victims of racism. I unfriended people who made claims like this, and unfriending urges swell inside me today as I read status updates from those who oppose Obamacare. Once I hear that someone opposes making healthcare accessible to more people—including poor people like me and Graham—part of me feels like we have nothing else to talk about. I don't (usually) want to argue, but it feels meaningless to agree in beer taste if we disagree about something much more fundamental. But I can't stop associating with people who oppose the Affordable Care Act, because those people are my mom, her husband, possibly my dad (we don't talk often), definitely his mother, my husband's father, and a handful of friends, all of whom have likely become a bit more pessimistic about the future of America at the same time I've become more optimistic. And maybe it's good that Facebook exposes me to opinions I'm at odds with, that way I can maintain a healthy level of pessimism.

Almost all of us have cuticles and health problems, and if someone doesn't have cuticles it might be because of a health problem, and I don't know what about a person without cuticles would make her morally unworthy of having her health attended to. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Can I put "grumpy mother" on my résumé?

Hi, I'm Amy. I'm a mother, a wife, a perpetual undergrad, a gin enthusiast, a cheese aficionado, a book lover and, occasionally, a cranky lady. This is a web of facts about me, and any movement in one part of the web makes a wave that moves the other parts of the web, and I know this because, as I've mentioned before, we live with spiders. We live with a lot of spiders. During an especially stressful two-week period near the end of the spring semester I more than a few times sobbingly said, "No one can help me!" Infrequently I feel overwhelmed, depressed and horrified, but generally the equanimity of the web mood reigns. In my web mood I feel like being a fan of books has everything to do with being a mother and that, furthermore, being a fan of books helps me be a mother and being a mother gives meaning to being a book fan. But sometimes the web is elusive and—this isn't exactly awesome to admit—all the facts of my life feel dead end-ish. I'm not in the middle of a moody moment right now. If I were I probably wouldn't be able to describe how it feels, but at this happy distance description feels possible. My bad moods have almost everything to do with being a mother. It's not Graham's fault that I'm a mother. He makes motherhood great, fulfilling, joyful. And it's certainly not Graham's fault that I'm a stay-at-home mother. He has never asked me not to put him in daycare, and it's not his fault that I am emotionally incapable of being more than a room away from him for more than an hour at a time, although his being an adorable, funny and entertaining love sponge doesn't make it easy to leave him. But he's also not blameworthy for being an adorable, funny and entertaining love sponge. That's just who he is, and it is truly the happiest privilege I have ever personally known or ever heard of to be able to watch Graham learn and grow and hug him whenever I want. But I am also responsible for Graham. I don't want to not be responsible for him. I am glad—thrilled, elated—that being his mom is my job. Aron and I never had a conversation where we mutually decided that I would be the one to stay home with Graham. I guess it was a given that one of us would have to stay home with him (since we can't afford daycare), but it's surprising to me now to realize that it was also evidently a given that that person would be me. I am going to stop interrupting myself after this one last assertion:  I'm glad I'm the one who stays home with Graham, and anytime Graham and I are apart I get awful stomach aches, so I wouldn't survive emotionally if I had to leave Graham for long periods each day, or any day. It certainly makes sense economically that I stay home:  Aron makes a little over eleven dollars an hour plus tips, and when I was working I made minimum wage plus tips, and it's not like being a knocked up perpetual undergrad made me suddenly eligible for a better paying job. Sometimes Aron asks where I want to go to graduate school, and even in my good web moods I respond with something like, "Why would I go to graduate school?" This isn't self-pity; it's pragmatism. I like books, but I have nothing to say about books. I'm a mother, and it's a personal rut that can't envision myself getting out of. Not a rut. But a rut. (Confusion is my part-time job.) When Aron asks where I want to go to graduate school, I feel like it's as practical of a question as, "Amy, who do you want to play Nick and Nora Charles in the remake of The Thin Man you're going to write and direct?" Edward Norton and Marion Cotillard, of course. If motherhood is a rut, it's a temporary one. In five years Graham will start school, which means that, unless I get pregnant again, in five years I will start spending my days doing something other than raising him, and I will at that point be out of practice in terms of focusing on what I want beyond motherhood. My bad moods arise from perspective problems. I simply cannot see where there is to get to. I haven't found full-time, stay-at-home motherhood to be the type of job that allows me to cultivate any of my other interests. It's no one's fault that I am evidently incapable of compartmentalizing. I don't even think it's my own fault. But I guess it's up to me to get better at it, and I'll be the one left wondering what to do in five years if I don't manage to improve my compartmentalization skills. It's tricky:  my happy moods result from the very connectedness that in my bad moods overwhelms me. They're just moods, and everything is fine.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Getting really pissed about tennis

I enjoy tennis:  playing it, watching it, talking about it. But maybe I'm changing, because Wimbledon is aggravating me in a major way. I can't watch, without groaning and rolling my eyes, grown men and women have ball boys and girls (who are just that:  boys and girls) thanklessly fetch and deliver tennis balls and sweat towels. In the past I have told myself that it's unreasonable to expect tennis players to thank the boys and girls who fetch their balls and towels each time the fetching is done. But saying thank you takes less time than it takes to first grab a towel, second wipe your face with it, and then finally toss the towel back to she from whom you originally snatched the towel—the thanking and sweat-wiping could be done concurrently. Maybe you're not the snatching type, in which case you're also not a professional tennis player. I have formerly exempted players from being considerate on the grounds that athletes are in some sort of hyper-focused "zone"—but if the players are concentrating so intently on the match that they can't appreciatively acknowledge the individual who brings them a towel soaked with sweat, then that level of concentration should also keep the players from noticing that sweat is collecting on their brow in the first place.

It's not as if the ball boys and girls are innocent orphans, although perhaps it would be better if they were—the ball boys and girls are young tennis players, and they likely aspire to become professional players of the sport themselves. And if they realize their aspirations, the ball boys and girls can become men and women who abuse younger versions of themselves. Not expressing gratitude is probably not actually abusive, but it is certainly annoying. I very rarely see restaurant or bar scenes on television or in movies that feature patrons who acknowledge the service they receive. And I see ingratitude in real life when I visit Aron at Starbucks. And I lived it when I worked at Taco Stand.

It occurs to me that several responses could invalidate my complaint about the ingratitude of professional tennis players (which is not to say that there's a shortage of examples of professional tennis players being extremely, shockingly ingracious—there is an abundance of bad examples). Perhaps so many nations are represented in professional tennis that it's at best simplistic (maybe it's even stupid) of me to suggest that all players should say thank you to the people who ensure the efficiency and fairness of a match—maybe there are cultural differences that would make another expression of appreciation more appropriate, not that I ever see anything resembling a gracious display (except the all too frequent nod to the sky, where God, who helped craft the greatness of the skywardly-effusive player, lives). Another possible response to my ingracious player complaint:  there may be rules in place at tennis tournaments that prohibit players from acting like self-sufficient adults. Maybe tournament rules specifically dictate that players not perform the simplest tasks—walking towards and picking up their own sweat towels—for themselves. If that's the case, then I'm disappointed in the sport and not just whoever happens to play it, and that still wouldn't explain the absence of appreciative displays. And finally, tennis players, like (practically all) other professional athletes are sponsored by companies (e.g. Nike) that make massive profits largely because their products are assembled in sweatshops by workers earning woefully inadequate wages, so can I reasonably expect participants to say thank you, and even if they did, would that really solve any of the true problems of the sport?

I heard Maria Sharapova—in one of those segments that ESPN orchestrates where a player's interview responses are made to seem profound because intense string instrument music plays behind them—say that everyone knows how much Wimbledon means to her. Because everyone is thinking about Maria Sharapova's thoughts.

We don't watch TV because we don't want Graham to watch TV, but Aron usually takes an hour nap with Graham when he gets home from school and/or work, and their hour in bed is what I refer to as my only hour. Sometimes I waste my only hour doing dishes, sometimes I waste it writing, and sometimes I spend it reading:  today I wasted it watching tennis and getting pissed. I've heard that getting pissed is slang for getting drunk, and I wish that were what I meant. It's for the sake of Graham's brain that we don't let him watch TV. It's for the sake of his decency that I won't let him watch professional tennis, or collegiate tennis for that matter.

Maybe it's silly to think that this is a tennis problem. I think Roland Barthes has a book about sports. If he thinks they're terrific I will change my mind accordingly. I really want Graham to want to play baseball.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I didn't deserve a migraine

I woke up this morning with a migraine, and it was the first time I've been sick in any debilitating way since having Graham. I felt the migraine coming on all night (starting in my neck, crawling up the back of my head, eventually settling in my right eyebrow, the right side of my nose, and in my teeth), but each time I woke up in pain I would force myself back to sleep, hoping that the migraine would subside by morning. It didn't, and I spent the first hour of the day squinting to keep as much light out of my eyes as possible and beginning Graham not to pinch me. Graham is working on his fine motor skills, and the first time he pinched my arm this morning it was uncomfortable, but I let him pinch two more times because I thought it might be a diversion from the migraine pain, which peaked about an hour after waking up—I yakked during the peak, and then the pain began to dissipate during Graham's nap, which immediately followed the yakking. So it really all worked out pretty well. Graham's pinching was not at all diversionary, as I hoped:  it just added to the overall pain, making my net pain even greater. Pain is so strange—it's so in the moment, so in the moment that it doesn’t even feel real anymore than I was ever experiencing it.

I didn't deserve to have a migraine today. I deserved one a few months ago. When Graham was four months old, I started claiming that I had become so comfortable and confident with babies that anyone could at anytime drop a newborn into my arms, say, "Take care of this thing," and I would have no fear about it. But Graham's beautiful cousin Eva was born Monday morning, and when I was offered the opportunity to hold her, my muscles suddenly felt like pudding, and I thought:  "Hold her tight, Amy! But not too tight! Well, what's the right level of tightness?! Shouldn’t I practice with an equally fragile doll first?" But while I was thinking that, my mouth said, "Let me sit down," and after I sat, I held her with a good degree of squeeze. 

On Tuesday Graham had a bath-meriting poop (very exciting for a mother with constant constipation concerns), and when I put him in the tub he reached for the faucet and banged his head against the side of the bath. He cried, and I felt awful.

I truly deserved a migraine a day from the time Graham was four months old until Eva was born Monday, and then I somewhat deserved a migraine until Graham hit his head in the bathtub on Tuesday. But since Tuesday I have abandoned my toss-me-any-infant cockiness, so I didn't deserve a migraine Wednesday, Thursday or today. And after today I think I never deserve one again, because I was terrified by how incapable I felt of taking care of Graham while at the same time needing to take care of myself. And as I squinted my eyes to keep the light out and grimaced each time my eyebrow throbbed, Graham looked at me like he was terrified too. I'm sure it was an ugly face I made. And I'm sure it was imprudent to ever regard any human, and especially a newborn, as easy to take care of.

"You deserve a migraine." I think that'd be a pretty cool way to rebuke someone.

***I'm feeling very emotional about Eva and Ashley, and about babies and their mothers in general, and I would like to write a post explaining all the love I feel for them, but I don't know if I'm going to be able to. I've been crying about five times a day thinking about babies and their mothers, and about Eva and Ashley in particular, but I can't really say why. They're beautiful and loving and giving, and each seems to mean everything to the other, but they're so much more to it than that, and I can't quite explain what that "so much more" is. I might try, but I might just get overwhelmed with feeling and go cry instead.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Teachable moments and potty mouths

Graham gets extremely irritable during my showers. They last eight to twelve minutes, eight if Graham gets irritable immediately and twelve if he spends the first few minutes contentedly playing with his toys. If the latter is the case I make a gamble that I invariably lose:  while Graham bangs blocks or chews the wings of an owl, I spend a few shower minutes dreaming, usually that I'm in a shower in a hotel room just yards from the ocean or a forest. The longer I let my dreaming go on—tying hiking shoes, snapping Graham into a Snuggly, putting a sunhat on his head, stepping into the ocean—the likelier it gets that Graham will become undone by the cranks before I am done with my shower. Nothing serious is ever the matter with him. As soon as I emerge from behind the shower curtain and look down at him in his pack n' play, he laughs and smiles. Eight minutes is the longest he ever goes without being touched or looked at. That may amount to a mistake, but I'm not here to judge myself. Graham is simply a whiny little cricket when I'm in the shower. I use whiny reluctantly, because the characterization seems to suggest that I think there's something manipulative about his disposition. I don't think that. Mimi, my dad's mom, claims that the first thing a child learns is how to control his caretakers. I think babies have needs, physical and emotional. Babies are needy—not in a bad way. My baby is whiny when I'm in the shower—not in a bad way. But while I'm showering I can't attend to his needs or soothe his crankiness. Sometimes a mother must rinse herself off.

The fact that Graham can't remain calm for eight minutes while I'm in the shower may make you think that if I were to take a bath and shave my legs and then shower, a routine lasting at least twenty minutes, he'd be absolutely hysterical by the end of it, but that's surprisingly not the case. While I shave my legs in the bathtub Graham and I sit on the same level, only a few feet apart, and we can see each other. We talk. I also talk to him while I'm in the shower, but the running water muffles my voice, and the only time my songs don't soothe him is when they're sung from the shower. ("Your baby:  the only creature in existence who is consoled by your awkward songs.")

I rarely lecture Graham:  we're usually engaged in activities whose content I'm not responsible for, like reading from story books, or chewing on them, although he does also often chew on my chin, not that I'm responsible for my having a chin. I read him poetry when he feels like listening, but never, as I hope you already know, my own. On the 30th of each month I tell him about the day he was born:  nothing gory or overly complainy—just things like, "It was 12:17am," and "You weighed seven pounds and eleven ounces." I think I’ve also mentioned that the quiche the hospital delivered the next morning was zucchini and disgusting, and I always tell him who came to visit him in his first days.

I try to limit my talking-at Graham to once a month, because I'm sure nothing I have to say interests him that much. When I read him poetry I really have to get into it—accents, gesticulations, wild pitch variation—to keep his interest. Otherwise he prefers funny faces and to play with his toys together. But when I'm in the bath and he's in the pack n' play, talking-at Graham is really the only thing to do. I try to make bath time educational. Today in the tub I examined my armpit and said, "I hope the hair there is long enough to shave. Sometimes if the hair is too short it's harder to shave, and if it's too long that of course is a problem too. This is a lesson you may want to remember for your face later in life." Each time Graham sees me shave my legs I fear that I am indoctrinating him to expect women to have smooth, hairless legs, so I am careful to explain during every shaving that women who choose not to shave their legs are not weird or repulsive. "They probably, in fact, do much more interesting and important things with their time than I do while I'm sitting in water with a razor blade, and they also avoid exposing their skin to potentially harmful ingredients found in shaving cream," I tell him, and then I attempt to pronounce some ingredients on my shaving cream bottle. 

"Graham, when people say that 'everything happens for a reason,' I doubt them insofar as I think what they are suggesting is that everything happens for a good reason, a proposition whose truth or falsity is indeterminable. Everything happens for reasons, maybe:  because the thing before it happened and so that the next thing can happen, and then the thing after that, and then the thing after that. But today, as I wash my feet, I notice that my right foot is significantly softer than my left foot. Why? Because that's the foot I dropped a bottle of olive oil on in the grocery store parking lot yesterday. It makes me believe that everything happens for a reason, optimistic overtones and all."

Graham has learned to yell, and he yells really well. When I talk-at him, he often shrieks, and I shriek back. It feels like a conversation. We take turns. We don't interrupt each other; he waits for my shriek to end before he begins his. It's fun. So if I were to have truthfully transcribed the story of my coming to hesitantly believe that everything happens for a reason, it would've contained at least twenty shrieks.

Last Sunday I decided I should start spelling simple words for Graham—words like mama, dada, Graham, cat, dog—to help him develop a sense of spelling. I don't know if it'll work, but it seems worth attempting. I am an awful speller:  without spellcheck, all of my blog posts would be full of misspellings, and they might sneak in even with spellcheck. In the second grade spelling bee I spelled monster m-o-s-t-e-r. It wasn't a hard word. It isn't. I remember that it was last Sunday that I decided to start spelling words to Graham because it was Sunday night that Ashley and Paul invited us over for dinner (an incredibly delicious falafel meal). Over dinner we happened upon the conversation of sex reassignment surgery, and I mentioned that a clitoris can be turned into a small penis, and the question "Does the penis work?" was asked. Aron responded that often a pump is installed under the skin, and I said, "Graham, pump:  p-u-m-p." It felt like a sufficiently simple word, one that is faithful to phonetics, and it's not an inherently dirty word.

Fuck is a dirty word, but I don't know that it's any more of an inherently dirty word than pump. Maybe it just requires a mature mind to understand its meanings. I'm not planning to teach it to Graham. I'm planning, of course, to avoid using it around him, mostly because I don't want him to use it around other children whose parents are the type of sensitive assholes who would complain at me about bad language their darling picked up from my child. It would not be good for Graham to get in trouble for saying a bad word, and it'll probably be a long time before he can learn to ask teachers if they practice voodoo, which is what he would ideally do if he were reprimanded for using foul language. "Because," he'd say, "most of us don't believe that a 'bad' word makes evil manifest in the world. And so-called 'vulgarities' have a history:  you just have to go back to the Norman conquest of England in 1066 to get at the linguistic heart of the 'bad word' matter." But of course Graham won't be reprimanded for using foul language because he won't learn it. Not in this house! 

Athens Mayor Nancy Denson has apparently been working with Wal-Mart contractors to get a store built downtown. (Something like that; I don't know exactly what's happening.) My neighbor, with whom I am friends with on Facebook, called Mayor Denson a "corporate whore" for her dealings with Wal-Mart, which I took some feminist offensive to. I had earlier that same week seen a documentary called Miss Representation—about the representation of women in the media—and heard dozen of male newscasters make vicious, sexist comments about women politicians. One newscaster said he'd like to wake up next to Sarah Palin, and the documentary also included a clip of Bill Maher calling Sarah Palin a bimbo. Several male newscasters expressed concerns about Hilary Clinton having her period. But "corporate whore" is an evocative and cadent insult. I don't approve of it, but I like when language does things. I want Graham to respect women:  by listening to them, not judging them according to the magazine standard, and feeling their pain as his own. I also want him to be able to spell. It will please me for him to play baseball, fairly and without an ego. 

Nothing I have said here is meant to be an argument—strictly musings.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dangerous minds

To audit a class at UGA costs as much as to be enrolled for credit, and I was informed that the University requires students be enrolled as auditors—rather than unenrolled and just sitting in—because of school shootings and the events of September 11, 2001. When I was told this—by the instructor of a class I hoped to sit in on this summer—I made a face that I had deliberately designed to belie the fact that I was both flummoxed and dubious:  flummoxed because I didn't understand how my sitting in on a class had anything to do with tragic massacres, and dubious about there in fact being any connection between the two whatsoever. The instructor seemed to read my expression with the meaning I wrote into it, and she explained that "They want to know who's where." I felt at first that she was suggesting that I might perpetrate a tragic massacre, which made me really angry—not violently angry, but mad at my humanity being misunderstood. I had just told the instructor that I had a baby, a fact about myself that I think anyone who knows me in even the smallest way should be made aware of, because it is the single most significant thing about who I am as a person and also, by extension, who I am as a student, a shopper and a citizen. As a mother citizen I would never commit a massacre. Maybe the instructor only thought that I could be a victim in a shooting or a bombing, which makes the auditing rule no less ridiculous, because I have visible tattoos, a freakishly large mole, and a family. My family will know where I am when I go to class, and they would easily be able to identify my body in the event of a tragic massacre.

I'm unconvinced that the purpose of forcing students to be enrolled as auditors has as much to do with national security or school shootings as was suggested to me, and even if that is the purpose of the audit rule, it hardly explains why tuition and fees for auditing should be the same as enrollment for credit. If I hadn't exhausted my loans for the school year, I would gladly pay tuition and enroll for credit. I want credit. I can't afford credit.

When I was eighteen a severely pregnant lady on probation asked me for a ride home. The probation office was next door to where I worked at the time, and the day the lady asked for a ride home was a hot, sunny summer one. She told me that she only lived a few miles away—nothing for a car, but very far for a woman in the last weeks of her pregnancy. (I, incidentally, walked to and from class three days a week up until the very, very end of my pregnancy:  it was a round trip walk of three miles, and I'm proud to have done it, although it wasn't ever something I did without grumbling, even though it was my idea.) It has come up in a few conversations that I gave the pregnant lady on probation a ride home, and almost every interlocutor has regarded me as foolish for having done it. I think it would've been foolish if she had been a man, but he wouldn't have been pregnant and I wouldn't have therefore felt the same sort of "Poor you!" impetus. I am afraid of men I don't know, and even afraid of some that I do know, and I think it's reasonable for a woman to fear male strangers. But I don't think it's reasonable to be afraid of a pregnant woman who isn't Nancy Grace. And I think it sucks to have to pay to audit a class. If starts charging, I might just have to do something about it. I'm totally kidding. I would do absolutely nothing about it.

Since I enjoy reflecting on my post titles, I would like to say that I think the title of this post is the funniest I've come up with in my personal history of blogging, which of course doesn't mean that it's funny.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sucking in

Blogger has a stat counter that tracks how many hits each of my posts gets, and I have, on occasion, checked this feature and, in checking, discovered that my posts with the more provocative titles get considerably more hits than the more lamely titled (e.g. "A picnic poem") posts get. My post with the "trigger warning" title has twice as many hits as the post with the second-highest hits, which distresses me a little, because I don't know what about that post makes it more interesting than the others. I shared that story to eschew the shame that I had been harboring for a decade, and I hope it wasn't read as having any sort of sensationalistic value. But I can't control reception, and it's probably not appropriate logically to make any qualitative inferences from the meager quantitative fact of number of hits. My post with the second-highest number of hits is "The answer to the question of siblings is sex," but maybe that post is comparatively popular because it contains a fabulous pseudo-sonnet and not because it sounds like I might talk about fucking in it.

I don't know what the title "Sucking in" might make you think I'm going to talk about. "Sucking in" does sound vaguely sexual. I could write a post about my temper and call it "Spitting," because spitting is an urge I have when I get angry. According to my mom, my dad spat in her face during an argument once, which is both disgusting and comforting:  disgusting for obvious reasons, and comforting because it seems to suggest that he must have cared about her deeply if she was capable of making him angry enough to spit. Maybe it's better to think of divorced parents hating each other than being indifferent towards each other. It's unfathomable that my parents, who together made me, are strangers now. What are we? Bugs?

This post should probably be called "Cynicism," because what I intended to write about is how tired I became of seeing fit mothers pushing around their children in exercise strollers at the zoo when we went on Thursday. Some zoo mothers even wore dri-fit tank tops and tennis shoes, attire that attested to their preparedness for spontaneous outbreaks of aerobics. Or maybe this post should be titled "Jealousy," because underneath these athletic mothers' tank tops were muscles instead of flab, and I felt resentment tinged with admiration about it.

Last semester I took a class called Feminism and the Body, and I remember hearing some of my classmates say that they suspect that body goals are never satisfied. I would like to weigh 120 pounds, which is achievable. I'd like a smaller nose—not achievable. The idea is that there could be endlessly many reasons to be dissatisfied with your body, so if you have a critical disposition towards your body, that disposition will persist and evolve even after you achieve the goals you've made for your body and appearance. Maybe if my nose got out of my face I'd be able to see that my hair is the real problem.

I haven't eaten much dessert in the past few weeks, and I have started to like the way my stomach looks … when I suck in. This is an achievement. It's the first time since having Graham that sucking in makes a desirable difference in my tummy appearance, and it means that I'm getting pretty close to the way I want to look. But the fear I have is that once I look, without sucking in, the way I want to look, I'll suck in again and want to look that way. If I keep chasing the goal of getting thinner and thinner, my stomach will disappear altogether, and then I'll just be boobs on top of hips. It's an idea, but how, then, would I reach into the cabinets for my protein powder? And where would Graham sleep?

I have a large mole on the inside of my left foot. If you've seen, you're part of a privileged group of people known as the people around whom I'll let my mole show. The mole is oddly huge not just in surface area but also in its three-dimensionality, and it isn't too attractive, and I feel more than a little shyness about it. Although I prefer warm weather to cold, I spent many years of my life preferring winter to summer, because winter's footwear doesn't risk the exposure of my mole the way summer footwear does. I have embarrassingly many times pretended to have a cut on my foot so that I could cover my mole with a bandaid. I bring the mole up because I wish I could be as comfortable with my body around anyone as I am about my mole around Aron. But I am even ashamed of my stomach in front of Aron, even though he has never given me reason to doubt that he finds me attractive. He's a kind liar, my husband. I can't decide if I want to fix my stomach or fix how I feel about my stomach, and I'm not entirely convinced that doing the first would do the second.

I wonder how many hits I'd get for this post if I had called it "the mole." Now that's sex-say.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Emotional co-dependence at the zoo

Everyone is born into a family, even if that family is only a mother and even if that mother must give her child away, and then agency endows us with the ability not only to accept a family but also, eventually, to choose one, although I'm not entirely convinced that getting married and having a child initially amounts to anything more than acquiescence to a custom, a custom that, nonetheless, involves a greater element of choice than is involved in simply being born. I don't remember what I expected from getting married and having a baby. I don't remember, actually, expecting anything:  marriage seemed, in the words of my favorite love poem, "a thing to be done." When you're in love and the person you love loves you back, which is itself an intensely terrific coincidence, you get married.

I'm pretty grim. Family's a love cluster, but it's one that exists as emotional insurance. For reasons I don't fully understand, the original love cluster—the birth family—tends to disintegrate. In a way I guess I do understand the disintegration:  I guess there's a baby bird leaving the nest element, and the other clear fact of the original family matter is that parents die. But the disintegration happens sooner than parental death does. Aron talks to his mom everyday; I only talk to mine once a week. Aron talks to his dad at least once a week; I talk to mine, at most, once a month and only see him, at most, once a year, and he hasn't met Graham yet. It truly feels tragic to me that original families don't last, but maybe it's just necessary, in the baby bird way, that their significance starts to fade. I don't think there's an age at which I'm going to be able to accept my parents' death and not feel as a result of it profoundly lonely and emotionally orphaned. I wish each year older would make it a degree easier to accept their passing, but I don't think that will prove true. That's not why I chose to build a family of my own—to help me cope and feel less lonely once my original family is dead—but it has occurred to me since getting married that Aron will be indispensably comforting to me during that time, and I will be for him in a similar circumstance. Jonathan Franzen has a book on writing and literature called How to Be Alone—I, obviously, haven't read it. The idea of a family cluster—which is also inevitably a love cluster, at the very least in the conception of love as robust concern—is part of my emotional composition, but it's difficult for me to explain how the love cluster fits into my emotional makeup. Often I experience the idea as an image:  sometimes moss growing up the length of a giant tree; sometimes ants eating an apple to its core in a time-lapsed fashion; and sometimes simply small groupings of dots—each dot representing a family member—separating before rejoining, dots like on a Wolly Willy.

Aron and I took Graham to the zoo yesterday, which doesn't exactly jive with our animal ethics generally, but at least the zoo pretends to be a moral place by educating its visitors about endangered species, deforestation and boots made from animal flesh. The reptile house in Zoo Atlanta is wild—I often have nightmares of being surrounded by snakes, so this part of the zoo was a nightmare come true. But the morally pertinent aspect of the reptile house is that it's consistently filled with screaming children, and signs on the walls instruct visitors not to tap the glass:  reptiles scare easily and can, when frightened, injure themselves. Maybe noises other than taps don't make it through the glass. I hope they don't—it would make for a pretty unpleasant life if they do, and even though I'm sure every snake wants to strangle me and then eat my face, I still think they deserve nice lives.

Bringing my three-person family to the zoo certainly contributed to animal anxiety. I guess I did some cost-benefit analysis and decided that I valued watching Graham watch animals more than keeping those animals' worlds as quiet and isolated as possible. Life is hard, but seeing Graham catch sight of and smile at a lemur is an easy delight. His eyes open wide, and his eyebrows rise, and it is so exciting and fulfilling to see him appreciate something beautiful.

The aquarium is another problematic place I want to take Graham, and I think it'll be a trip that he can appreciate more than he appreciated the zoo, where he primarily paid attention to the noisy children animals. Graham doesn't follow a pointing finger all the way into a field where a motionless lion lies. But he certainly seemed interested in the up-close, mobile creatures, especially the otters (my favorite!) and the momma and baby gorilla (my other favorite), who spent a lot of time lovingly wrestling each other. It was so cute! I am robustly concerned with the welfare of animals. Visiting the zoo may not be the best way to illustrate that concern, but I think that allowing Graham to admire animals is good for him in a way that will also prove to be good for animals. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

Graham peed all over himself while in Aron's arms yesterday morning and also, therefore, peed on Aron. We had packed a change of clothes for Graham, who has a habit of peeing on himself (during diaper changes especially), but we didn't pack a change of clothes for Aron, who hasn't peed on himself for at least five years. After our zoo adventure we drove to Peachtree City to see Aron's family. His mom, aunt and grandma were eager to watch Graham while Aron and I went on a mini-date to Starbucks for coffee and Target for a new shirt for Aron. Before our mini-date, Aron showed his mom pictures we had taken at the zoo, and while that was happening, his grandma snuck up to me and pried my fingers apart and forced a twenty dollar bill into my hand. She said, "Use this to buy Aron's shirt." I yelled, "Aron, help!" thinking that he was in a stronger position, being her grandson, to refuse her money than I, being essentially an interloper, was. As soon as I yelled to Aron for assistance, his grandma shouted back at me:  "Shut up, Amy! Are we family? You know I love you."

The nicer people are the more upsetting it is to imagine their deaths, and simply not thinking about death isn't easy for me. A silverback gorilla at the zoo was born a few years before my mom, and now I'm afraid that he might not have many years left. He probably has an amazing doctor, though.

I actually also enjoy being alone. It hasn't happened for more than an hour in the last seven months, and it isn't just because I'm afraid of optimism that I'm going to say that I'm not sure emotional co-dependence of any sort is good for an individual. I think it's good to care about others, but I don't know if needing is good. I don't want to forget how to be alone. As usual, I'm confused.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The elephant of ennui

I'll never write a book, and I'll definitely never write more than one, but if I did, here's a list of subjects I'd cover along with the titles:
  • on pregnancy:  Suddenly I Don't Recognize My Feet
  • on French philosopher Gilles Deleuze:  What Do You Have, Deleuze?
  •  on college poverty:  Used Pillows
  • on boredom:  The Ministry of Malaise

The last one would be told from the perspective of the director of the Ministry of Malaise, and she would have to be me, and it would be as boring as the phonebook, and like the phonebook, no one would ever read it for amusement.

Last week's bird of boredom has become this week's elephant of ennui. It's a heavy animal, and it's only Monday. Speaking of elephants, one of my daily hobbies is keeping track of the sentences that are spoken in our house and that outside of the context of child-rearing would seem ridiculous. Here are two from today:  You just fell on an elephant, you silly Billy goat! and If that plastic caterpillar teaches Graham the alphabet sooner than I do, I'm gonna be pissed

After having an eventful weekend full of traveling and family visiting, sitting in the house with Graham today has felt boring. Really boring. So boring that I've more than once muttered, "I am so fucking bored." So fucking boring that I thought it might be fun to have a nosebleed. So boring that for amusement I flipped through a phonebook that was recently left on our doorstep, and in it, I found this:

Yes, creepy ad, I have, lots of times. This ad is made creepier by the fact that none of the businesses featured on the same or the adjoining page have anything to do with children or parenthood; they're businesses for:  fences, financial planning, fire alarm systems, fire extinguishers, and fire sprinklers. This is terrorism. What's the suggestion? Hug your children before they die in a fire? I felt the fear of losing my child to a fire, and I panicked, lifted Graham from his highly flammable pillow-blanket pallet and squeezed him in my arms, before returning him to his pallet to play with his toys and feeling, once again, very fucking bored. So I kept flipping through the phonebook until I arrived at the Psychotherapist entry, where I saw a listing for a place called Recovery Café, which I plan to visit for an espresso and emotional meltdown soon. A psychologist named Sylvia Knight appears twice under the Psychotherapist heading and allured me for that and other reasons. The name Sylvia will always make me think of Sylvia Plath (my favorite psychotic), and Knight combines darkness and goodness. Sylvia Knight is probably the lady to call if you want some of your craziness fixed without relinquishing everything that might make you interesting. "Feel better but don't bore your date:  call Sylvia Knight." I can't, as a sufferer of boredom, conceive of wanting to be fully healed of a psychological ailment. I wish, in fact, that I had one. And I want to call Sylvia Knight. She sounds like a villainess. Maybe I want to be Sylvia Knight. Maybe I just made her up. 

On the same page as Psychotherapists was a heading for Pumpkin Patches with a note underneath that instructed the searcher to "see Family Fun," and at the sight of the words family and fun I felt a little hope blossom in my bored heart. So I flipped to Family Fun, but it only had one associated business, and it wasn't even for a pumpkin patch. It was for an art gallery. 

Today is rainy, so there isn't the option of going for a walk by the river or to the park. Today is an indoorsy day, and the walls of our house never change, and I'm not strong enough to rearrange the furniture on my own, and Graham seems more content lately exploring his toys on his own than with my help. I know that the lowest trees have tops, but the highest trees also have bottoms. If it's sunny tomorrow I think I will be better able to appreciate both types of trees, or I'll make worthwhile their being chopped down by reading the phonebook for fun again.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Your mother

A joke I made yesterday at the lake party netted not a single laugh. We were all sitting in the sun on the dock when Stephanie, the hostess, said that we needed to take a boat ride before she became too drunk to captain an adventure. "They will pull you over for boating under the influence," she said, sipping a Cosmo. "How would they know? Failure to maintain wave?” I asked, and the crowd was tough. I bring the comedy flop up because learning that boating under the influence is illegal—and not, as I formerly presumed, merely a permitted pastime of the rich—reminded me of Nancy Regan. Here's the exact flow of associations:

BUI à excessive alcohol consumption à Mimi à Nancy Reagan à blowjobs

According to the book Hollywood Babylon—or, more truthfully, according to stories I've heard from people who've actually read the book (I'm not one of them)—young Nancy Reagan had excellent oral sex abilities and a penchant for displaying those abilities during car rides, resulting in a few young Hollywood actors being pulled over by the police, probably for failure to maintain lane, with Nancy as their passenger.

I once was on the verge of telling Mimi this story—I don't know why. Mimi has said that she hopes reincarnation is real so that she can be returned to earth as a stud horse, and during my most recent visit to her house she described in sensual terms how she enjoys the way drinking a martini warms her whole body. In her early, immature drinking years Mimi's drink of choice was a Tom Collins (my favorite, too), but the sugar in Tom Collins (not, according to Mimi, the gin) gave her hangovers that lasted three days. Mimi is not a pure, demure or prude old lady, but she is my grandmother, and I don't know why I ever imagined that I could tell her a story that included the word blowjob. Mimi adores Nancy and Ronald Reagan both, and she had brought one or the other of them up and in so doing had reminded me of Hollywood Babylon, so after she finished telling me whatever little Reagan tale she had, I thought I'd tell her mine and thereby bust, or at least dent, her bubble of adoration. I said, "Mimi, I actually know something pretty shocking about Nancy Reagan." Mimi let a little gasp escape from her bright red mouth and said, "Oh darling, I know what you're going to say." I had been doubting that Mimi would even know what a blowjob was and had prepared myself for her asking "Darling, what's a blowjob?" after and if my lips figured out how to form the word in her presence. But instead of shocking Mimi with the story about Nancy Reagan Mimi was shocking me by evidently already knowing not only what a blowjob was but also that Nancy Reagan was the queen of giving them. "How do you know?!" I asked her, stunned. And she said, "The Reagan campaign never kept it a secret that she was Ronald's second wife." And I guess at that point I lost my courage.

Mimi just helped me pay for my summer semester of school, which without her help I would've had no way of affording, and I am very grateful for what she's done. But I'm also disappointed in Mimi, because I recently heard that she accused my sister Amanda of letting her kids, who are the kindest and cutest and funniest children I've ever known, "run all over" her. And that's just not true. Mimi also believes that her dog always goes outside to pee. And that's just not true either.

I like at times to consider the series of mothers I come from and how I resemble, would like to resemble, or hope to avoid resembling them. I had been calling Graham "my sweet boy" for a few weeks before I recognized that my mom has always called me her "sweet girl." Aron's mom calls him "honey," an endearment I've adopted for Graham. Mimi hasn't told my dad that she loves him in years. I'm glad that Mimi and I are alike in our love of Tom Collins, and I hope one day to be as financially generous to my children (or, FUTURE SHOCK, grandchildren) as she has been to me. But if my dog ever pees in the house I want to know about it. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The answer to the question of siblings is sex.

For three days I've been traveling:  first to McDonough to visit family and then to roughly Milledgeville for a lake party. Graham and I made the trip to McDonough alone, and I'm pretty proud of myself for gathering the courage to go and of him for being such an easy travel companion. I went totally alone to the lake party, which I just returned home from with a sunburn, because children and men were expressly prohibited from attending. I had three beers and one boat ride.

You can't doubt Thomas Wolfe:  you can't go home again. Henry County has a new Traumatic Brian Injury rehabilitation center and, not unrelatedly, signs posted in the front of businesses that root relentlessly and needlessly for Newt Gingrich. Henry County also recently had me and Graham. Mimi, my dad's mom, who has become a recurring character in my blog, lives in Henry County permanently, and we visited her. On the phone a few days ago Mimi talked to me about her best friend, Edna, who is the kind of hoarder we should all be:  her house is cluttered with photo albums, family letters (some bound chronologically), and books. The closet of Tom, Edna's late husband, is no different than the day he died, still full of his suits and shoes. Mimi, conversely, is proudly unsentimental and gave away everything that belonged to Bill, my grandfather, within months of his passing. After Edna moved away from her childhood home her mother began sending her letters and enclosing in them freshly minted dollar bills, which Edna instead of spending saved and stored decoratively in a crystal bowl on her dining room table. A few years ago her house was broken into and the bowl and its dollars were taken, and Mimi said, "To talk to Edna you'd think it was a national tragedy." Mimi's house is sparse. She has photographs but they lack feeling. They're just there. I don't know how to explain it. They inspire as much emotion as a still life might. She has books, some Saul Bellow. 

I recently texted my oldest sister and told her I was wondering if I should, for Graham's sake, have more children, since siblings help socialize each other. I know that overpopulation is a problem, but … can you imagine a world of nothing but only children? What damage can I do to Graham by denying him a sibling? Could I, as my sister suspects happens, overwhelm him with attention that would be dispersed if he weren't my sole focus? None of this should matter now, since Graham is only seven months, three days and twenty-three hours old and since I just got back from a party and still feel vaguely beery and thoroughly sun-soaked. But it matters because I am having an episode of doubt:  I doubt that I am very emotionally mature. You might think that if I determine that I am in fact emotionally immature, then I should not have more children. But if I'm as immature as I fear, then I need to have a brother or sister for Graham so that they can raise each other. I'd still do the mom stuff like cook and bathe them, but they could help each other grow into mentally stable and emotionally competent people if I end up not being able to. I hope I can. When I got home from the lake I had, in addition to an attractive sunburn, a new dress, and Aron said that I looked really nice and that he wanted to take my dress right off of me. He didn't, but it's good to know he had the thought. I am too rarely the target of anyone's motivational states. 

Today I heard a group of ladies agree that the service at an overpriced restaurant was "bad," and I felt that their assessment of the service created a huge ideological gap between us, one that I fell in and couldn't get out of. I couldn't just go there with them, to whatever station in their shared mentality where complaining about "bad service" is a legitimate thing to do. I understand that feeling disgruntled over this indicates my emotional immaturity, and I'm sorry, Graham. To me it just makes sense to get bad service. I don't feel wronged or offended if a waiter appears grumpy or seems to have no patience with me. I just think:  he is probably tired and has had shitty customers all day and feels like he's working for nothing before remembering that he has to pay rent and then thinking, "Oh, that's why I'm working:  not for nothing, but so that I don't have to live outside," and then maybe after he's had that thought he's not in the mood to be nice to me. That just makes sense. But can't I just nod my head and agree that it sucks to have to wait five minutes before my drink order is taken? For some reason, I can't. For some reason, it feels like an unbridgeable gap. 

Here's a poem I wrote on my drive home from the lake. It's called "Magnetic Alphabet," and it's sort of a sonnet and made mainly of lines taken from other poems/stories.

Sara, I don't think you should get married
For someone as beautiful as you are
There are other options, children from tubes
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Who needs a daddy, two mothers will do
The mother you are, turning sometimes in
To the mother you knew, you were a child
Sara, I have had to kill you, you died
Like sunlight at night, resting just to rise
And St. Jude gives and St. Jude gives away
He steals from my mind your face and wears it
As a sort of test, I guess, and I pass.
Why, no, I don't recognize those black eyes
Or that creased nose you borrowed to hurt me