Friday, October 12, 2012

Abrupto the Magnificent Works His Magic.....again

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a dream.

Like all good dreams, it is going to sound insane if I try to explain it to you, but it involved a movie lot, a tour of high school kids, and a tsunami scene that, because of its outrageous expense, could only be filmed once and had to be done just right. At this point in the dream, after approving the design of several period-specific posters depicting surfing and other beachside activity, I am putting some carpet remnants and other things in a dumpster. (The fact that I am some kind of art director-cum-production assistant in my own Hollywood-themed dream is something I shall not examine too closely.) Then, the following dialogue takes place.

Me: :throwing stuff away:
The Voice: Kim
Me: What?
The Voice: Kim
Me: What??
The Voice: KIM
Me: WHAT??? I yell it with all my might in the dream. I am annoyed. Also hoping this isn't some kind of Biblical scenario. Because I am annoyed. And I'm not sure The Lord Your God cottons to annoyance.

What follows is not unlike the sensation of surfacing very abruptly from deep water with the sting of chlorine in your nose. Because now I am awake, and aware of the fact that I am not being hailed by God, the director, or anyone else, I am being hailed by my husband.

"Your phone is ringing."

What followed, in short, was me springing out of bed spitting out a blue haze of profanity with the speed and alacrity of someone in a rap battle. Despite nearly sixteen years of hard empirical evidence that I awaken abruptly very very poorly, my husband has determined that it is, at times, appropriate to awaken me by simply starting to speak at full volume when I am sound asleep.

It is one of his least charming propensities. What is worse is that 1)my phone was not ringing, it was a text message and 2) it was his phone anyway. I made the angriest pot of coffee ever in the history of angrily assembled beverages and waited for the adrenaline to dissipate. I recommended to him earnestly that he not open his lips for 30 minutes. He said, "You can just go back to sleep, you know."

Clearly he needs to reinventory the number and variety of weapons in this house.

Friday, October 12th, 5:45am. I go to turn over and open my eyes briefly. My husband is sitting bolt upright in bed with his cellphone in his hand as a makeshift flashlight. In his wide-awake voice, he initiates this exchange.

Him: "They're back,"

Me (wide awake and having a sudden flash of Carol Ann touching the TV screen or Regan telling a befuddled astronaut 'You are going to die up there' before she pees on the carpet and starts sending priests out the window): "What the hell are you talking about?"

Him: "The mice. They are chewing in the walls. I can hear them."

Me: "We never had mice in the walls in this house. We get a couple of squirrels in the attic when it gets cold, that's it."

Him: "Well, they're back. I can hear them."
(Note that the cat, nested between  us on the bed, hears nothing, starts at nothing, and could not possibly care less.)

Me: "Well, what do you want me to do about it?"

Him: "Zzzzzzz...."

And so another morning began with an unwelcome dash of lucidity, with me staring wide-eyed and wide awake into the black, watching it turn to blue gray while I listened to the cat and my husband snoring in complimetary rhythm. And the gentle scrabble of squirrels in my ceiling.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Tinkering with my engine

Discontent is the source of all trouble, but also of all progress, in individuals and nations.--Berthold Auerbach

     I've been thinking lately about what motivates me. Not what motivates me to make grand and sweeping life changes with eternal, praiseworthy implications, just what motivates me in the practical and ordinary sense. It is a less than impressive list.

  • Desire to avoid shame and/or humiliation
  • Discomfort that can no longer be ignored
  • Fear of "getting in trouble" 
  • Recognition that neglect of a thing has turned into a stressor

Now, obviously I'm not talking about serious major stuff like paying bills or obeying the law or child-rearing that manages not to send sociopaths into the world. I'm talking about things like housework. Cooking. Organization. Remembering to go places you are supposed to go to do things you are supposed to do. I'd love to be able to put out a list like this:

  • Concern for my fellow humans and a desire to improve their lives (before anyone argues that this is something I AM motivated by, okay, it is, but that isn't to say I always or even mostly do it willingly. If I'm going to lift up the rug instead of just sweeping around the edges there is a fair amount of internal dissent, grumbling, and selfishness at play here.)
  • Delight in organizing and executing the many small things over which I have governance
  • Enjoyment in serving others with no thought of what's in it for me, particularly at home (okay, most of the time. No one is June Cleaver all the time. If they are I'm afraid of them.)

I have come to the conclusion that any effort of improvement has to start with an honest appraisal of what has precipitated it. And I'm not saying that the less glamorous list of motivators is any less effective than the shiny bright altruistic one. What I do believe is key to making sensible improvements is a realistic admission of why, who, and what for. Is it sensible to make improvements to yourself to benefit others? Absolutely. The insanity (and, ultimately, failure) lies here:

  • Doing things to shut someone up
  • Doing things out of self loathing that has been cultivated either by yourself or others
  • Proving someone right or wrong for the simple 'In your face' experience
  • Concluding that there is only one right way because someone else says so
  • Acting on the assessment of someone whose opinion you do not value who has decided you are 'less than'. 
  • Acting against your own intuition to become someone you know you are not
  • Making a grand declaration of self-revolution complete with outrageous goals in the secret hope that the support and encouragement from others will magically hoist you on their shoulders and carry you to victory easily and without effort. (This one is most specific because it was my MO for a long time. Note that the declaration isn't the problem, the notion of  effortless surfing to victory is.)

All this to say, I am working on myself. Working on some things that bother me, both efforts that need to be increased and neglects that need to be, well, less neglected. I am recognizing that I am not always good at tackling a problem logically and breaking it down into tasks. (Oddly, I can help other people with this, I just don't do it for myself very well.) I don't entertain the idea that by such and such a time I will be and do such and such a thing; this is an ongoing exercise with no definitive terminus and there is nothing discouraging about that. I am just beginning to recognize that there are much better expenditures of my time and energy than repeatedly disappointing myself, and that a lot of joy and contentment lies in simply diminishing the amount of time I spend doing so.

I'll try to make all this mental, physical, and emotional housecleaning as fun as possible. I promise.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

And Then It Hits You

Most students think that writing means writing down ideas, insights, vision. They feel that they must first have something to say before they can put it down on paper. For them writing is little more than recording a pre-existent thought. But with this approach true writing is impossible. Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us.  --Henri Nouwen

Maybe I've been going at this all wrong.
I have long harbored bitter jealousy toward people who always seem to have something interesting to say. I conclude that they must lead a different life, a wildly interesting life, where things happen and those things can be written about in witty, spare paragraphs where my life of quiet desperation and slipshod housekeeping was once full of stories but now trundles along on quite a dull path indeed. "What do I write about once all the good stories are told?" I seem to ask myself.
A ridiculous question. Whose good stories are all told? Not even people who are dead, I imagine, since there are quite a few friends I have lost whose stories are told by everyone who remembers them, and not all the same ones, either. So here's me, getting over myself.

       I'm thinking about Facebook a lot right now. And don't worry, I'm not planning on going off on how Mark Zuckerberg may have single-handedly brought down civilization by miring every person with a computer in a mind numbing swamp of rude cartoons and cat pictures.  Nah, I'm going to complain about the collapse of respectful discourse.
      It is pretty well established that the computer grants people a boldness they may not otherwise possess. I might not get in a shout-down argument with my political opponent in Dunkin Donuts over a bagel twist, since that would be rude and unseemly, but hey! I can call them (subject)-phobic crypto-(subject) subjects on Facebook, and gleefully click 'Like' on anything that insults them  effectively and entirely, skipping around sharing perverse memes like a mean little fairy flinging glitter. Gritty, scratchy glitter.
     If I'm honest, I'll admit that the first "But....but..." is my own. Something of the 10 year old me surfaces when I think about this, the girl who sullenly declares "But THEY started it." But logic prevails. It has to. Look, there are lots of things people will never agree on. There is absolutely nothing that can be done about this. But we all have choices. We all have the choice to say, look, I don't think we are in the same place on this, but I want to understand better where you are coming from. This is absolutely without risk. It is not 'letting down the side'. It isn't sedition. It is making an actual effort to understand the set of assumptions and conclusions that drive a person's opinion REGARDLESS of how spurious you might think they are. And when two people who disagree sit down and agree on one thing-- speaking and listening with respect, that's when the magic happens.

1. You are dealing with a PERSON, not a party, not a PAC, not a side, not 'Big Whatever'.
2. You may get an opportunity to dispel a myth. Or have one of your own dispelled. This is a burden you get to put down. The other thing you may get to put down is that big brush you have been painting with in describing whomever you identify as your opposition.
3. You may find out that at the end of the day we all want the same good things.

I've always had the suspicion that treating people with compassion and respect regardless of whether it is returned, indeed, even if it isn't returned, is less exhausting than nastiness and judgement.

I've been noodling on this for a while but it was driven home to me in an odd way. Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel has a bit where he has celebrities read some of the things people say about them on Twitter. Something about seeing the person's face when they read what others have said made me wonder whether we've taken evil and called it honesty. And whether in our hyper-connectedess we've depersonalized other people even as we are in each other's lives like never before, to the point where we think we can be as "honest" as we like with no consequences. We forget that the simplest tools can be weapons, depending on how they are used.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Bookin' and Cookin'

I wouldn't say that I own a whole lot of valuable stuff.
I do have favorite stuff though, and this is a wee snapshot of some of that stuff; my carefully curated cookbook collection. (Carefully curated; not necessarily carefully arranged. Or even frequently dusted if I'm honest.)
     My love of cookbooks started early. My grandmother had a hutch in the kitchen that held, among other things, a large Williamsburg Cookbook of fancy colonial dinners one ostensibly whipped up over an open fire in pots suspended on iron hooks while defeating the British and banging out some tallow candles, a fabulously illustrated Southern Living cookbook full of recipes featuring peaches and pecans that I'm fairly certain we never tried, and the frequently used Philadelphia Orchestra Cookbook, a wildly successful fundraiser that yielded the most popular family recipe ever in the history of anything, a stuffing, boneless chicken, and gravy casserole that we came to refer to as simply 'Orchestra Chicken'. When I finally got my hands on my own copy of the cookbook, anxious to see what other history making recipes could be found within, I was a little frightened by 'zingy tomato aspic' and 'duck blood soup'. I'm still perusing this one, certain to find delicacies that don't involve quivering vegetable jello or the blood of any waterbirds.
     I have favorites. Some of my cookbooks are vintage, and even better, some are used, and have come with all sorts of treasures pressed in the pages. 'The American Woman's Cook Book', published in 1940 with a very patriotic eagle on the cover, came with two; a handwritten recipe in perfect Palmer method on newsprint-thin lined paper for 'frankfurters with sauerkraut' and a round fold-out set of directions for a rubber bushing model Cory glass vacuum coffeepot. (Once the height of convenience, this sort of coffee pot is now being sold by coffee 'geeks and purists'...if you are chasing the rush of a freshly roasted and carefully brewed caffeine buzz you can check in with these folks, arguably gurus of fussy coffee goodness.)
     My favorite vintage cookbooks reflect the zeitgeist of their decade in both instruction and admonition. 'The Vegetarian Epicure' by Anna Thomas, a vegetarian cookbook from the days when being a vegetarian was more fun and involved artisanal cheese by the pound, has a section for 'the two-hours later course' of after-dinner snacks, which is explained thus:
This two-hours later course is especially recommended if grass is smoked socially at your house. If you have passed a joint around before dinner to sharpen gustatory perceptions, you most likely will pass another one after dinner, and everyone knows what that will do-- the blind munchies can strike at any time.
I hasten to add that this particular cookbook did NOT come with anything fun stuck in the pages.

     One of the things I want to write about is cooking. I'm certainly not proposing some kind of Julie and Julia endeavor-- for one thing its been done and for another I'm not eating kidneys and scouring the Pennsylvania countryside for marrowbones. What I will do is meander through my dusty little shelf of cooking wisdom, throw some stuff in the oven, and see what happens. Food is celebration. Food is memory. Food is an understood language. Even in my mismatched, secondhand kitchen these recipes can sing.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Writing to Write

     I've tried writing with no rules, and with strict rules and pledges; in fancy books and in any old notebooks; with hand turned fountain pens and any old giveaway ballpoint. I've been confused to silence by blogging, wondering where journalling fit in, whether it had a purpose beyond marking the fine line between what I did and did not dare to say aloud. Always hovering at the margins the truth; that there are many things I don't say aloud that I don't articulate anywhere at all.
    I know I chase a certain atmosphere by keeping a journal-- the books, the pens, the trappings seem to me more of a comfort than the words themselves; the doing, an escape-- the evocation of cabins, of sea air, of days spent in temporary escape where ability and possibility seem so simply and clearly limitless. I've always tried to write at times and in places where I could imagine (pretend?) that my daily introspection ran on some other, better track than that familiar map of fears, regrets, and inadequacies. The critical voice, the one that cut down weed and flower with equal determination and indifference has always been at hand to say "What's the point of this?" or, "What can you reasonably expect?" I suppose the accusations can be distilled to one theme: "Just who do you think you are?"
Maybe that is a question worthy of an answer-- not as some kind of defense or apology, but for my own satisfaction. Writing to please has left me paralyzed. The effort of meeting expectation is a curious source of resentment. Curious, because I enjoy writing things people like to read. But I am overly critical of my own writing, immediately discarding some ideas and overwhelmed by others. In any case the only way to develop ideas is to engage in the exercise, whether for an audience or not. Waiting for ideas to spring fully formed and relevant on demand is frustrating for no other reason than this is simply not how it works.
     So I set pen to paper (because that is how much of this begins) with no promise, purpose, or destination in mind. We'll see where it goes together.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Resistance Was Indeed Futile

Argh. I held out as long as I could.
When people told me about Pinterest, I had two reactions. One was "Ooooo!" the other one was "DON'T GO THERE." Because I knew it would be a feast for the short attention span, a diversion ditch into which free time would pour like Spring-melting snowpack. Since I already spend a questionable amount of time monitoring the doings of 400 or so friends on Facebook in the course of the day I didn't need another diversion. Then Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity suggested that Pinterest might actually be used for a completely reasonable, useful purpose. So I caved.
The challenge is simple: choose some items you've pinned, and execute them in your own life. If its a recipe, cook it. Organizational ideas? Implement them. Anything that struck your fancy as something you'd like to do, do it. There are three levels to the challenge, and I have opted to shoot for the highest level, which is implementing 8 or more pins. (Details of the challenge can be found at the link to Trish's blog above. Join in!)

I am also doing this as part of a larger effort here at the Robinson homestead. I got the itch this winter to do a real harrowing out of 'stuff' and a reorganization of our home, on a level that has not been attempted since we moved here in October of 2005. It was time to pitch some things we were tripping over and tired of looking at, and reclaim spaces that had become cluttered and unusable. So far approximately three carloads of things have been sold, given away, discarded, or donated. We have a bit more to go, and that is phase one of a general redecorating effort. I'm relying on Pinterest to help with some of that since I've primarily been decorating by the 'arrange stuff people gave you in the same room' method.

My first 'Done Pin' was Brown Sugar Crockpot Chicken from the fantastic A Year of Slow Cooking blog, pretty much the only crockpot cookbook you'd ever need. It was very good and I will definitely make it again, since himself ate most of it and loved it. I'll be posting here through the month with some other 'Done Pins' as well as some thoughts on cleaning house and letting go of 'stuff' both internal and external.

Monday, February 27, 2012

An Oscar Recap for the Easily Distracted

"Billy Crystal, hosting his ninth Oscar show, seemed to be overseeing a cruise ship dinner show designed to appeal to the over-50 travel club. Early on, it hit the rocks and started to list. Almost everyone drowned."---Hank Stuever, The Washington Post
     I was bullied into watching the Oscars.
My husband, visiting relatives, pestered me on Facebook until I joined some friends on Twitter to watch 'together' and provide a running commentary on the proceedings. I had no intention of watching them; seeing people congratulated for their work on movies I hadn't seen (and this year, for some reason, I managed to not see a SINGLE ONE of the Best Picture nominees) didn't strike me as a good time. I should have followed my instincts.

     The tedium started straight away. It is marginally fun to watch actresses (because, really, a tux is a tux so who cares about actors) cruise the red carpet and see the pretty dresses they bought, the jewelry they rented. Its a bit like an abbreviated parade. Penelope Cruz walks by. You say, "Oooo." And then promptly forget why. Because look, more tulle and sparkles! Do I, Jane Q. Citizen, need to hear a distracted mini-interview about who she is wearing? I do not. I bought one expensive dress in my life, it was white, and I only wore it once. Stop, turn, wave, smile, and move on.

     Apparently there was some issue last year with the hosts being poor choices. They are both people I like to see in movies, perhaps they were unfunny, I have no idea. I didn't watch it last year. So heads got together, dug deep, and decided that someone who seems to do his best work when you don't have to look at him (Cars, Monsters Inc) should be the face we have to look at for three hours. There was an interminable montage in which his relevance was argued. I don't think the Academy did itself any favors joking about how they had to work hard to convince Billy he had 'enough jokes' to host again. Billy has plenty of jokes. He helpfully lets you know when he's telling one by laughing at it himself.

     I don't know if this was a new thing or not, but the banter has changed. Gone is the 'witty' exchange between some lovely actress and random self deprecating actor, the fake flirting and then finally getting down to business, though the formula for this time-honored bit of nonsense was rightly lampooned by two presenters (I should remember who they were. If I cared, I would.). Instead, each presenter was compelled to read a scripted ode to each nominee that was as lame and unbelievable as it was irritating. There has to be a way to present awards without sounding so forced and awkward. Watching people pretend to laugh because there is a camera on them, and looking progressively less convincing over the course of three hours, is not at all entertaining. The close-in audience shots were like watching the less invested relatives of talentless children endure a terrible dance recital.

     The ode to fabulous movies of the past was predictable and unnecessary to anyone who has ever seen it done better in an AFI Top 100 Films special. Watching Cirque du Soleil elicited the usual response; worrying that someone would fall, hoping they would, concluding that I am a terrible person. Though I am grateful that they dialed down the usual trippy creepiness several notches.

     An awards show is what it is; wealthy people patting each other on the back. I don't argue that the actors in films shouldn't be recognized for their hard and often brilliant and inspired work. I'm just not sure I need to watch. If it is a herculean effort to make the proceedings interesting and entertaining, maybe it is time to admit that despite best efforts, they simply aren't.