Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When Keeping It Real Goes Right, Book Club Edition

My "Other" book club met last night, that is, the book club I joined about a year ago hoping it would be a welcome contra to the original shitty, ginormous Podunkville book club of 25 people I was invited to join when we first moved here 3 odd years ago. And in many respects it has been.

If you've been reading me awhile, you know the importance of being in a book club in Podunkville - that's how you get the information you need to make it here in business, family and in life. Maybe it's a small town thing.

The truth is, Other Book Club is usually boring. After the last several meetings, I've gone home each time thinking I needed to gently break up with these folks but I couldn't bring myself to do it; because as I've already said I need the info being a member of the group can provide. Our book club seems to be missing a certain spark. Everyone is perfectly "nice." And sometimes "nice" is really grating, and not enough. Part of the problem is none of the members are really outspoken or funny or vibrant. Least of all introverted me.

Last night I decided to take the risk of being really honest about what I truly thought of the book. Holy hell, I hated the book so much so that I finally felt I had to keep it real.

The actual title of the book is irrelevant. Bottom line: it sucked out loud. I'm just grateful it was a library book. It was this ridiculous, poorly-written, fictional tale of a dysfunctional Oregonian family where everyone - children, mothers, the differently-abled - gets violently raped. Literally, I lost count of the number of assaults and rapes detailed in the damn book. And I mean it when I say none of it was at all essential to plot or character development. It was one of those shitty 450-ish-page books that on the surface feels female empowering, but when you dig deeper it is totally antifeminist, complete with those tired old "mother must be punished for having an abortion" tropes, and going back to the absentee dad thereby affirming the power of traditional marriage bullshit. It depicted a developmentally disabled character in a troubling "magical" and "inspirational" light, and with a certain dialogue that just did not ring true. And I kept thinking to myself "I just don't believe any of this could be real." I could go on and on, but I won't. Strangely, it has gotten glowing reviews online except for one negative one out of 87 that reassured me I was not taking crazy pills for hating it.

So I said pretty much all of that out loud at book club. And lo and behold, some of the other members revealed they felt like I did. We had a deep conversation about it. I felt like everyone was heard and respected. I even felt like I understood the rationale of the couple who loved the book - although I won't be jotting down their book recommendations, nor they mine, I came away liking them as people. What a pleasant feeling.

How about your book club experiences? Have you read anything lately in a group or on your own that really spoke to you? ("Wolf Hall" is on my list, thanks @Paola, as well as "Kindred" by Octavia Butler, thanks @Cloud.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

20 Albums Meme

I'm answering @Anandi's call for a list of the top 20 albums that have influenced my life. I purposely stayed away from "Greatest Hits" albums, because I wanted more of a challenge. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Doolittle - The Pixies. Back in the day, I included songs from this wonderful little album on pretty much every mixtape I ever made. There was a time in my life where, if you were a boy, knowledge of this band was a prerequisite for talking to me. Incidentally, I had the opportunity to see them in concert the week before I got married. Amazing.

2. The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) - The Beatles. Man, I totally grew up on this record. See, my parents are very musically literate and did not abide "children's music." This was their version of the music they thought children ought to be experiencing at all times. None of that Disco Duck crap, thank you.

3. Pet Sounds - The Beach Boys. Another one of my classic childhood albums that was always playing in the background. Yes, I realize its release actually pre-dated my childhood by several years. No matter.

4. Thriller - Michael Jackson. Though I believe in my heart of hearts that he was a ped, and that perhaps we should all be thanking a certain tranquilizing-prescribing MD instead of imprisoning him, I can't deny how much this album once meant to me. I can still do every step of the Thriller dance upon request (which is never).

5. London Calling - The Clash. Every damn song is good.

6. Rumours - Fleetwood Mac. Reminds me of every road trip I've ever taken. I love Stevie.

7. The Joshua Tree - U2. Hands down the best U2 album, and they've put out so many good ones.

8. Led Zeppelin II - Led Zeppelin. It was also hard to pick just one Led Zep album.

9. Let It Bleed - The Rolling Stones. Again, they've put out so many great albums, but this is a standout for me because it includes my favorite song of theirs "You Can't Always Get What You Want." True dat.

10. Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd. I've never tried playing this album along with the movie "The Wizard of Oz" on mute - but they are supposed to be in sync. Someday when my kids are old enough to appreciate it, we'll have to try that.

11. The Doors - The Doors. "Crystal Ship" is probably my fave, in addition to all the songs of theirs everyone and their mom has heard a million times. And by the way, Val Kilmer made a fantastic movie version of Jim Morrison, IMHO. He wore the same black leather pants for the entire shoot. I bet that smelled lovely.

12. Appetite for Destruction - Guns n' Roses. Despite being released in the 80s, and all that perhaps implies, his album has aged so well. They never got lame.

13. Remain in Light - Talking Heads. I can't get enough of T.H. So many excellent songs.

14. Nevermind - Nirvana. Came out when I was in high school. Instant love affair with their sound. How I never got sick of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is totally beyond me.

15. Parallel Lines - Blondie. I want to be Debbie Harry when I grow up, but I'm too tall, too brunette, and can't sing. Keep hope alive though.

16. Substance - New Order. My DH totally hates "that synthy poppy crap" but I cannot get enough. This album will always be cool to play at parties.

17. Tapestry - Carole King. My favorite 70s singer-songwriter. Her version of the Shirelles '61 hit "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" is so beautiful.

18. Sam's Town - The Killers. The most recent album (2006) on my list. Guess that means I don't think very much memorable music is being put out today. Yes, I'm looking at you Ke$ha.

19. The Chronic - Dr. Dre. Instant classic. I loved Snoop Dogg's contributions to this album, too.

20. Pretty Hate Machine - Nine Inch Nails. TR made this album pretty much singlehandedly in a studio where he once worked as a janitor, if I'm not mistaken. He's gone on to do some good work on movie soundtracks.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Holiday Card Etiquette

I've got some heavy things happening in my life right now. I still can't stop thinking about the evils perpetrated at Penn State. A close friend is divorcing. Another was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Another can't get pregnant, and has exhausted all treatment options. So I feel the need to do a post on the lighter side.

Let's be vapid and talk about holiday cards.

We just ordered ours. We send them every year, and we love getting them. Yes, even the ones with the 500+-word supplemental essays sharing how the supergenius kids are on the honor roll again, and telling cruise ship stories. Good for you. I mean that. But if I'm not related to you, please don't send one my way. A simple card will do.

We always put a picture of the kids on our cards, but we never include DH and me in the picture. I hear that's a southern thing, though we are definitely not southern. And we're not fugly or anything, it's just - well, we prefer to see people's kids and pets, and not so much them. Especially not them in the picture every year. Depends on the personalities involved, I know, but it just seems vain. Anyway, there's just nothing better than seeing how the kids have grown and changed. Love it.

It irks me when people do not follow the proper card etiquette. Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking: Um, what about "it's the thought that counts," not everyone cares about etiquette, blah blah blah. It is something I just can't help but notice, ok? Kind of like my issue with walking into someone's home and seeing pictures hanging way too high, making the ceiling look shorter. I would never say something IRL, of course.

Yes, I know I have a problem.

I'm a big proponent of Old School Etiquette. (Although from the coarse language I use on this blog, I can see how that might not be too obvious.) I'm talking Miss Manners, Crane's Blue Books and the like. There is nothing worse for me than to get a well-designed card from a faraway friend, then I keep reading and I see the order of the names, and notice that they are listed incorrectly! Gah!

PSA time: When informally listing the names of members of a (hetero) family, PUT THE WIFE'S NAME FIRST. Ladies first, people.

Happy Holidays!
Wilma and Fred Flintstone
Bam Bam and Pebbles


The Flintstone Family
Wilma, Fred, Bam Bam and Pebbles (you could put a comma after Bam Bam's name if you want, or use the "&" sign)

However, when using the formal, such as "Mr. and Dr." - the (hetero) husband's name goes first. And if no one changed their names when they got married or shacked up, RESPECT THAT and use their Actual Names.

Ms. Goldie Hawn and Mr. Kurt Russell


Get it? Got it? Good.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wear Blue This Saturday


The Board of Trustees of Penn State has fired head football coach Joe Paterno. Having read the grand jury report (and by the way, I suggest you don't - it is truly horrific) it was the least they could do. Paterno knew, and he did nothing.

Here's how some members of the student body responded:

"Demonstrators tore down two lamp posts, one falling into a crowd. They also threw rocks and fireworks at the police, who responded with pepper spray. The crowd undulated like an accordion, with the students crowding the police and the officers pushing them back. “We got rowdy, and we got maced,” Jeff Heim, 19, said rubbing his red, teary eyes. “But make no mistake, the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend.”

When I read accounts like the above, it makes me want to cry. What the fuck is wrong with our culture?

How is it that so many people can know that children are being abused, but not one of them can pick up the phone and dial 911 to report the crime?

As a parent, I am grappling with how to process this. My son will probably play baseball, though a small part of me hopes he does not. He'll encounter this fucked up male sports culture bullshit someday. Even if he chooses not to play - it's in the American culture.

I know I'm not sounding terribly articulate here. This is really bothering me, and I don't really have the words.

A therapist I respect has said that after about age 5, too many boys stop getting physical affection from their parents. As if at some point their parents deem them too big to hug and kiss. I've seen it all around me. Sometimes boys look to athletics and their coaches to fill this need for affection and physical contact and belonging in a group. This is also the point where predators know boys are particularly vulnerable.

I need to go hug my children now.

Wear blue on Saturday - the color of child abuse awareness.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Assorted Updates for My Long-time Readers

This post just might read like a series of very random thoughts. I want to share some updates about some of the people and issues I've posted about in recent and not so recent months.

Remember my son's play-dough obsession at Montessori? I met with DS's teacher. It was my first parent-teacher-student conference, which is kind of a funny thing to call it considering DS just turned 4. What a great meeting. I walked away feeling so impressed with the program there, and so proud of the person my son is and is becoming. When I originally posted, my dear commenters were unanimously adamant that there is nothing "wrong" with a 4-year-old having a healthy obsession with play dough. Turns out the teacher agreed with all of you completely! He wanted to meet with me to let me know that this is what DS had been choosing to spend his time on at school, but soon moved on to other "works" and showed me what he's been drawn to. He assured me this is all well and good and as it should be, and he wanted to get from me a sense of what DS's passions are (that question is a real stumper, actually. DS is kind of a learning omnivore. He's as passionate about jigsaw puzzles as he is about the song "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele. Good luck finding an overarching theme there.)

I remain so impressed that the teacher cares so much, and keeps the class small despite a long wait list so that he can devote a lot of attention to the needs of each kid. He shared with me the story of his own daughter's experience at a different local Montessori where there was no communication at all with parents about their children's experiences there everyday. Turned out, his daughter spent an entire year coloring at Montessori, and no one there even noticed. Ultimately he felt this failed to prepare her for K, and in his own school he has vowed to keep notes on the kids and keep parents in the loop by having mandatory conferences periodically, and by sharing videos and photos of what's going on in class. I don't know that this high-level of communication is typical for "Montessori" schools, but we are absolutely loving it. And DS got rave reviews - he really is a sweet, caring kid who is a "calming influence" on some of the older, wilder girls and boys. Man, they are so different at school than they are at home!

Remember when our sitter suddenly needed to take time off because her daughter cried a lot about having to go to Kindergarten? Her daughter is enjoying school now. And apparently eating the 'good enough' lunch already. Sitter's back to working for us as regularly scheduled, so my work is no longer suffering, thank you baby jeebus! The recent debacle prompted a long term plans discussion, and it looks like we can count on Sitter being with us until at least March 1, so the search is on for her replacement. Appreciated the ample notice, Sitter. I also have secured a spot for DD at Montessori next fall, so really the only potential child care gap will be March 1-mid June. Once summer hits, we can easily find a college student.

The couple that moved to Podunkville recently with the wife who makes shitty comparisons? No, we're definitely not going to be BFF's. Not at all. Though I've been trying to be gracious. Like inviting them to trick-or-treat with us. Hanging out every few weeks is about all I can stomach. My kids apparently agree. Her DD, same age as mine, has a hitting issue that my kids can't stand. And her son is turning out to be a bit of a problem child at school, but is an angel at home so that is throwing them for a loop it seems. Trying hard not to have any Schadenfreude-ish moments nor place any unfair labels on what I'm seeing. la la la! I've tried introducing her to nice people, including my sweet friend C, but it turns out perhaps not shockingly C isn't much of a fan of hers either. I'm glad I'm not actively being mean about it. Except behind her back on the internets, of course, of course... Thanks, I had to get that off my chest!

Continuing on in the "shitty female acquaintances you just can't seem to shake department," my ex-friend, M, the lying liar who lies to get out of paying her share of a hotel bill has been successfully demoted to casual acquaintance. I'll see her in groups every couple of months, otherwise I'm remaining Perpetually Busy. She sent me these odd texts recently about getting together for coffee or a walk, then wishing me a good trip when I wasn't going on one, and now I really think there is a dementia diagnosis in her future, unfortunately. Perhaps she really did "forget" she agreed to a hotel stay on her trip. At this point though, it certainly no longer matters. Sad.

And in ancient history (not really) update news - anyone remember local yokels Bill Clinton and his now-ex-wife Skeletor? Those are some not very nice names I gave them, I know. Do they deserve them though? Hells yes. I mention them now because Bill Clinton is the first real life person I've ever known to actually personify that old-fashioned, Don Draper-ish stereotype of the middle-aged divorced guy who suddenly starts dating his much younger secretary. Can you say "Walking Stereotype?" The new girlfriend is a 22-year-old subordinate who DH says is not too bright. Bill Clinton's oldest child is 10-years-old. You do the math, people! Skeletor has also moved on, and she too is dating a 20-something dimwit who reportedly dyed their daughter's hair jet black and gave it a severe crop, taking her from Marcia Brady to Coraline. How the mighty have fallen. Two short years ago, they were in the running for America's Preppiest Family. Oh, and the kids recently contracted lice, too. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just that the old them would not have been having any of that. And Daddy who has primary custody hasn't been following the treatment protocol, so everyone in my Shitty Book Club is really mad at him right now. It's a real shitshow. One of those cases that makes you question that almost-always valid presumption that it's better to divorce and get the kids far away from the parents' toxicity. I guess in some rare cases like this, sometimes each of the parents go on to find themselves in a whole new set of toxicities. Gah.

End update rant.