Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Conscientious Consumption in the Age of Skinny Jeans

Eight years ago, I could have fit into a pair of skinny jeans, though I wouldn't have tried. I was too self conscious for such form-fitting clothes. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hater. It's a fine trend and if you can make the skinny look work, I say go for it! If I could today, I would.

Alas, my body is not best displayed in flesh-clinging pants, which is a shame, because this fad has taken over the universe. I can't recall a fashion craze that ever made me feel so inadequate about my wardrobe. I currently own two pairs of jeans - the very comfortable baggy pair that make my butt look weird, and the more shapely, but not quite long enough pair that displays my belly a bit too... candidly. A few months ago, I didn't care, but both pairs of jeans are so far from the skinny trend that I am constantly reminded not only of my girth, but also that I have dorky clothes.

I've been longing to visit The Gap or a Levi's purveyor, so I can shell out a ton of money for an easy fix to my problem. I've been studying my not-so-skinny peers and some of them have managed to find jeans that approximate the trend, without making them look like upside down Weeble Wobbles. I know the solution is out there. But, I've been broke. Yeah, I could have made clothing a bigger priority, but I spent my scraps of disposable income on road trips and a writing class. I've had loads of fun these last couple months, but those two ugly pairs of jeans are getting downright ratty.

So here comes payday, one of those two "extra" ones we get every year, and on the eve of a promising new decade, no less! I've budgeted my bills wisely and there's a little gravy on the horizon. I've been utterly impatient to replenish my closet, but then I did something that totally fouled up my plan. I read an article about Third World sweatshop workers.

You see, whenever I'm feeling sorry for broke-ass self, I like to read articles about Third World people so I remember how incredibly charmed my existence is. Harpers is my go-to resource in these situations. The January issue has an article called "Shopping for Sweat: The Human Price of a $2 T-shirt" and it focuses upon Cambodian apparel industry workers. I may as well say "Cambodian workers" because it's just about the only industry in that country. Anyway, these workers make an average of 33 cents an hour busting out tens of thousands of t-shirts annually. One factory makes boutique-quality t-shirts, at $2 a piece, for Aeropostale. Aeropostale turns around and sells those shirts for $30 -$35. Good grief, where do I even begin? I'll start with questions -

- Who spends $30 -$35 on a t-shirt?! Shoot me if I ever do that.

- Where do the other $28 - $33 per shirt go? Yeah, it helps pay for the retail space and the mall workers' wages and marketing. But what chunk of that pays their execs? I'm guessing it works out to be way more than 33 cents per hour.

Here are some interesting tidbits I learned

- On average, Cambodian workers make way less than Chinese workers. Chinese laborers earn between 55 and 80 cents per hour. "Made in China" has such negative connotations, but after reading this article, I would feel a lot better buying a product with that tag instead of "Made in Cambodia" or "Made in Pakistan" or "Made in Sri Lanka"

- The article also states that "Few Cambodians have supervisory roles in local plants... foreigners account for 84 percent of production planners, 56 percent of work study engineers, and 54 percent of line supervisors at Cambodian factories."

- Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of Cambodian apparel workers are young women.

So how is a young Cambodian lady to work herself out of the shack that she most likely shares with two or three other people? Some argue that sweatshop labor is a necessary stage in a nation's economic development (which implies a better future, perhaps not for the ladies themselves, but for their offspring). Others simply argue that these jobs are better than no jobs, and "no jobs" is the only alternative. Of course, the selfish and convenience-thirsting part of me wants to believe that I'm actually helping Third World workers by buying a pair of Levi's, but my intuition keeps tugging at my conscience.

I decided to consult the most conscientious consumer I ever met, my husband. Dan is the only person I know who shops online for union-made underwear and who also has an ethical stance on gasoline purchases (the purely South American-sourced Citgo is, after all, the most local choice). He is also a seasoned union organizer and generally knowledgeable about labor issues. Knowing that there is no simple answer for the conscientious clothing consumer, I asked him what his best choice is. His reply, as I expected, was "pay more for American union-made clothes."

But say everyone in this country decided to do that instead of buying $35 Aeropostale shirts - wouldn't that put the Third World worker out of a job? Obviously the answer is "yes," but we also know that isn't going to happen. Dan's point is that the sweatshop economy just isn't sustainable. "What usually ends up happening is that Third World workers get excited at first because there are jobs. Then after a year, they start realizing that the jobs aren't that great, and then they start to form unions. Once foreign buyers get a whiff of that, they pull out because they don't want to pay more, and they search for new sources of cheap labor." I suppose the model keeps working for the foreign buyer (that would be us) as long as there are untapped populations of desperate people. So in a purely cynical sense, it can work for us First Worlders for a good long time. But can we really fool ourselves that this source of underpaid work is really benefiting Third World people? Doesn't sound like it to me. At least, the argument isn't strong enough to make those Gap jeans seem like some great offering.

As for the idea that sweatshop labor is a necessary stepping-stone to prosperity, that smacks too much of "how can we survive without slavery?". Sickening.

On the other hand, I can see that this moment of reckoning is the next phase of my development as a conscientious consumer. Considering my general political beliefs and who my spouse is, it's long overdue. I've been conscious of sweatshop politics for years, and I cringe when I read "Made in (insert impoverished nation)" labels, which is probably why I so often chose to ignore those labels. Dan has been a strong influence on me. When we buy something together, we tend to buy it American-made. Our food choices are always as local as possible. But for me, clothing is that one last big hurdle.

So here's my plan -

- Continue getting the bulk of my clothing second-hand. This is a solid ethical and economic choice. It's less wasteful and it supports a local business (the thrift store). I will probably end up buying clothes that were once made in a sweatshop, but I can live with that if I am reusing something that someone else tossed away.

- Buy all the new stuff union made. I'm gonna try my best.

I think this combination is financially viable. I also like it because now I have a good reason for not wearing cutting-edge trends. The truth is that, compared to all the other things in my life (food, writing, travel, my family), I just don't care about fashion that much anymore. And besides, I figure this skinny jeans thing is bound to be the next stone-washed of dated clothes.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Postcard from My Favorite Living Writer

I recently wrote a fan letter to Louis Auchincloss, my favorite living writer. Guess what? He wrote me back! This was an auspicious start to the holiday season, indeed!

Let me tell you a bit about this writer that you never heard of. Louis Auchincloss is 92 years old. He has written 31 novels, 17 short story collections, and 17 non-fiction books, but for most of his adult life, writing wasn't his day job. He was a wills and trusts attorney until he was about 70 years old.

My therapist first turned me onto Auchincloss after I told him how much I enjoyed the writings of Jane Austen and Edith Wharton. I also mentioned that I was sad to be running out of material, as I was rapidly gobbling up their work. He handed me a pile of Auchincloss novels and I've been chipping away ever since.

Auchincloss is a lot like Wharton, focusing on that same lofty class of New Yorkers, but about 50-75 years later. His characters tend to be as wholly imprisoned by the conventions of their limited society, but modernity makes it easier for them to eke out a bit more joy.

Auchincloss grew up in that society. He attended the Groton School (the Roosevelts's prep school of choice) and Yale. He comes from several generations of wealth. He's quite familiar with the crowd of white guys who run the world. I love his writing, because he helps me understand those guys by way of beautiful, subtle, and often heartbreaking character studies.

At the same time, Auchincloss is really good at understanding individuals that would seem alien to him. In my letter, I told him (and pardon me for quoting myself, but I don't think I could express it better than I did in the letter) "I think that the quality in your writing that I most admire and wish to emulate is your remarkable perspective. You and I come from very different worlds, and yet I can relate to so many of your characters. The most stunning example for me was Harry Reilly from 'The Mavericks'. Like Harry, I come from a large, working class, Irish-Catholic family, with an awful father. But what really struck me was when you said that Harry would have been more successful in his job if he hadn't been so sensitive to real or imagined condescension. I remember my shock in reading that line, because I felt like I was reading about myself!" Truly, Harry Reilly might be my all-time favorite protagonist, not just because his major shortcoming happens to be one of mine, but because he is also inspired to overcome it.

I also told him about another of his characters who helped me overcome a fear - my timidity in hanging out with my siblings again. In his story, "The Anniversary," a middle aged minister is uneasy about attending the party celebrating the 25th anniversary of his marriage. Through flashbacks, we learn that early in their marriage, the minister's wife left him and their two children to run off with another man. She returns a couple years later, tells her estranged husband and children that she wants to come back, though she understands they may not want her. The children eventually warm to her again, and so does the minister. She becomes an excellent wife and mother.

Understandably, the minister has a lot of weird and unresolved feelings about her having abandoned them. But I loved the wife because she helped me figure out how to approach my family. I wrote to Auchincloss, "the estranged wife in your story was my model. I loved her unassuming and frank manner, the way she refused to force a reconciliation, but let others decide if they would accept her. Reading that story helped me to build my confidence and face my family without fear. And I was fine." Herry Reilly helped me know myself better, but she helped me to be a better person.

I said a lot of other things in the letter (not just about myself). The main reason I wrote it is that I feel it's important to let others - artists, especially - know when they've done well. Whether that person writes or acts or sings karaoke, I try to let him or her knew when they've rocked out, so that they'll keep doing a great job. I guess this thing called "encouragement" seems pretty obvious, but we humans don't offer it to each other enough. Too often, we let our admiration turn to jealousy. I don't know any more filthy-feeling emotion than jealousy, so I'd much rather replace it with sight of someone's smile when I tell them how much I enjoyed their work.

The note I received from Mr. Auchincloss was like I smile I could carry in my pocket. I hoped he would write me back, but I didn't expect it. I found his postcard in my mailbox the day after Thanksgiving. The little kid handwriting threw me at first, but then I saw his signature and I admit, I squealed. He thanked me for my very sympathetic and understanding letter and said, "It set me up - at 92! Bless you for writing it".

I've been carrying that postcard in my book bag every day since. I don't really need anything else for Christmas.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Update: The AATA Gets an F+

I'd heard from a few friends that one of the pale faces alongside the Blake Transit Center had been replaced by an actual non-white person

So, congratulations to the Ann Arbor Transit Authority for their belated nod to diversity! What's more, they even immortalized a self-proclaimed bus rider - and a student no less. A doctoral candidate in opera? Wow, a musical theater person wants to have their face blown up to the size of a small building? Crazy.

You know what's extra funny? This photo mural replaced that of Newcombe Clark, whom I had nicknamed the "wannabe Robin Colcord of Ann Arbor" in my previous posting. That's a reference to the television show "Cheers". And then this young lady comes along, claiming that on her bus, "everyone knows my name," which is also a "Cheers" reference. After 16 years of being off the air, that dumb show is still this pertinent. I guess American culture gets an F, too.

Anyway, this marketing campaign is still a stunning failure, because I don't want to see anyone's giant head in the space that used to tell me when the bus left the station. Please, AATA, spare me your local celebrities and just give me my goddamned system map back.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I Broke Up With Tyra

She was like a best frenemy. You know, that self-obsessed nutjob pal you keep around because every once in a while they can be tons of fun? I may not know Tyra Banks personally, but I can tell that she's an insufferable egomaniac. Yet, I have to admit that "America's Next Top Model" is one of the most entertaining televisions shows I've ever watched. So what made me stop watching?

It wasn't a conscious decision, at first, I just didn't notice the start of the most recent cycle*. My dear Detroit Tigers had given me valid hopes of post-season glory and on most Wednesday nights, I was thinking about them instead. Besides, my crappy digital antenna just couldn't catch a signal, so I didn't even try to watch ANTM on the telly. "I'll watch the rerun online," I thought.

About three weeks after the premier episode, I tried to catch up on the CW website but my internet connection failed. After a fleeting moment's frustration I had to ask myself if I really wanted to watch. And that's when I made a conscious decision to break up with Tyra.

Let's go back to that self-obsessed nutjob pal that I mentioned earlier. You've probably had one of those friends (unless you are that person, in which case, I'll try to help you understand why your buddies eventually ditch you). You hang out with that friend because sometimes they're fun, and maybe that ever-twisting swirl of drama in which they live is kinda entertaining. But eventually, you feel as if that person is sucking the blood from your veins so you do one of two things - a) bitch about them constantly to others, or b) just stop hanging out with them altogether.

I now realize that my favorite thing about watching ANTM was chatting with my fellow viewer friends about all the obnoxious, arrogant, self-important nonsense that Tyra said or did on her show. But then she went one misdeed too far, and I just don't want to hang out with her anymore.

It's this whole "short model" gimmick she's trying. Every Top Model cycle involves some contestant who would seem to have no chance of winning, because of some supposed "handicap" that would seem to prevent them from professional success. First, it was the plus-sized contestant (they have usually had at least one plus-sized girl every cycle since). Then there was the legally blind girl, the girl with Asperger syndrome (Heather, my all-time fave!), the tranny, the burn victim. Few of them got to the last round. Only one big girl ever won. Still, Tyra could congratulate herself for pushing the boundaries of our culture's definition of beauty.

Yes, Tyra posits herself as a progressive matron to all her young lady disciples. Remember that "kiss my fat ass!" bit from her talk show, after everyone saw the tabloid photos that made her look chunky? She got a lot of cred for that, as if she had done some good for the world.

But the thing with Tyra is that she only cares about that crusade as long as she gets to lead it. Being progressive isn't as important as being the matron. She condescends to her contestants like she's a sensei, or the Queen of England, or Yoda. Her self-important posturing is typical of reality show panels, and it's hilarious. But it's also sociopathic.

This cycle, Tyra has only included girls who are 5'7" or shorter. Again, she claims that she's trying to stretch industry limits, but you know what? I think she just wants to be four inches taller than every girl in the room. And if she really needs that ego boost, she might be imploding. Perhaps her dreams of Oprah-scale fame and wealth aren't materializing as she's hoped. In any case, I can only hope that her downfall will be well-documented by "The Soup", 'cause I'm done with boosting that nutjob's ratings.

*other shows have "seasons"; Top Model has "cycles"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The AATA Gets an F

I'm a huge fan of "The Ride", the Ann Arbor Transit Authority's extensive bus system. Hell, I was Commuter of the Month in January 2005. I've logged countless hours on the #13, #9,#6, #5, #3 and especially the #4. I even have a little song for the counter-looping #12A and B buses, to the tune of Outkast's "So Fresh and So Clean" -

Ain't no bus ride dope as me
I'm the 12A/12B (12A and 12 B! B!)

Yes, I'm just that dorky in my passion for The Ride, and usually I have only nice things to say about it. In fact, when I was given a customer satisfaction survey on the #9 bus a few weeks ago, I was very excited to fill in the bubbles at the top of the multiple choice scale. That was before I saw this -

There I was at the Blake Transit Center, getting ready to catch the #4, when I was suddenly accosted by Linda Yohn's giant head. Linda fucking Yohn, the lamest and yet most influential DJ on WEMU, an otherwise delightful local jazz station of good taste. Want to hear something totally played out - like "Take Five" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet - followed by some really obnoxious local act - like the Chenille Sisters - while trying to digest your breakfast? Then Linda Yohn's morning jazz show is just for you.

Perhaps you think I'm mean. Perhaps you're wondering, "What does all this have to do with the AATA?". But that is my point exactly! Why is she suddenly a spokesperson for The Ride? Does she actually ride the bus? The fact that I can't stand her already just makes it more annoying.

Days later, I encountered this new beast by the corner of S. Fourth Avenue and Liberty -

Ingrid Sheldon, are you kidding me? She's best known as the Mayor of Ann Arbor 10 years ago. She must be known for something else to some important person, but we'll get to that in a moment. Because guess what? There are more white people on display at the BTC! Just as I was recovering from Sheldon and Yohn, I met this imposing visage at my beloved 12A/12B stop -

Eek! It's Newcombe Clark, the wannabe Robin Colcord of Ann Arbor! Have you ever met this guy? I have. Wish I hadn't. I won't get more personal than that. But I will say that at least his little blurb about economic vitality makes a point, instead of being some vague statement about "the community". Just makes you wonder, why is this point being made, and to whom?

I think the last panel gives us our answer -

"The Ride gets our employees to work" Whose employees? Our employees? Is that the royal "our", Mr. Richard Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations?

Basically, these four local, moneyed, white celebrities see some value in letting the rabble have their jitneys. Their oversized posters are a plea to their less charitable but just-as-monyed peers who don't want to have to subsidize the AATA. And the poster children are rewarded for their efforts with these enormous mirrors for their equally enormous egos. It makes me nauseous for a few reasons -

1) Ann Arbor is a narcissist's asylum. In this town, "celebrities" outnumber affordable housing 20:1. I've made lots of choices about where I spend my time to avoid these sort of people, but I kinda need to use the bus, and I don't want to look at these faces

2) These bus stop walls used to hold useful information, like the bus schedule, and the system map. Now that information isn't as accessible.

3) I find it especially offensive that the Richard Sheridan panel is posted at the #04 bus stop, because the #04 is the most racially mixed bus line. It's like he's apologizing for all the people of color standing in front of the sign.

If this new signage bugs you too, click here to voice your concern. Just like the Ride, the AATA complaint page has the power to bring the community together!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

De-Catholicizing: Writer's Block

I promised a series of writings about becoming less Catholic, and it's taken months for me to produce this second installment. I guess I've been doing a good job of not feeling guilty about everything (my therapist assured me that I really can rid myself of the NCB - neurotic Catholic bullshit). But, I just experienced another exorcism that I would like to share. I've signed up for a fiction writing class through my local community college. It took a long time to get me back to this point. It's taken half my life.

The last time I took a creative writing class was in my junior year of high school. That was 16 years ago, when I was 16 years old. My teacher was a somewhat successful writer - his first published novel was nominated for a Pulitzer - but he was a very sad man. I'll call him Mr. Henderson, because he was tall and gawky like the creature from "Harry and the Hendersons". He was also skinny, and wore too-tight turtlenecks that made his nipples pop out (a student once scribbled in an old text book "Mr. Henderson looks like Skeletor with tits"). Anyway, Mr. Henderson loved my writing. He raved about it in an embarrassing fashion, but I admit that I craved the attention as much as it made me thoroughly uncomfortable. So, why did I refuse to take the next level of creative writing the following semester?

There were a couple reasons. First, I felt like a fraud because the story he loved most was based on something that happened to my sister. It wasn't my story even though I wrote it in my voice, with my own embellishment. I felt like I had cheated, especially after Mr. Henderson went nuts for it. Now that's some NCB.

The second reason is that Mr. Henderson became way too comfortable confiding in me. This was years before I developed my "Don't you fucking talk to me" face (crucial for bus-riding), and I'm afraid I was an easy mark for pathetic folk who should have been in therapy. One day, he asked me to stay after class. I can't remember exactly why. I think he was upset about an angry feminist tale I had written. But we didn't talk about that. Instead, he told me all about his divorce and ended his woeful bio with the statement, "Sometimes the price of sex is too high in a marriage". That's when I decided to keep my distance from Mr. Henderson.

I can't blame myself for wanting to avoid another semester with that yucky man, but neither can I blame him for my aversion to creative writing classes in college. I was terribly afraid of being bad at it. When I look back, I can't imagine why I would have majored in anything other than English Lit. Maybe I would have finished college if I had done what I really wanted to do. I would probably still be in customer service, but it would have been cool to finish.

Anyway, here I am now, happy with my largely ambition-less life, but I do long to be a better writer. And I want to write fiction again. I like this essay-writing thing that I disguise as a blog, but it isn't the same. I started writing a story several years ago (it was the start of a book, really, but I didn't get very far) and was reminded of that amazing sensation you get when you make creative choices. How will you map the next plot turn? How will the character reveal herself through the dialogue? I miss that.

So after 16 years of wrestling with the NCB, I'm finally about to do it! But before I could register for this class, there were a couple more hurdles. First, I nearly signed up for one called "Breaking Into Sitcom Writing", not because I'm that enamored with sitcoms, but because it seemed to suit me. But it only suited me in the sense that it helped me avoid writing fiction, which is what I actually want to do. Then, I almost registered for a class called "Writing for Beginners" because that didn't seem too intimidating. But then I remembered the tap dance class.

When I was eight, my mother brought home a flier for recreational classes at the Dearborn Civic Center. I wanted to be like Fred Astaire, so I was drawn to the tap lessons. I pointed to the listing for "Beginner's Tap Dance". My mom noticed that the class was intended for children 3-5 years old. She suggested the intermediate level for older children. But I wouldn't budge. How could I possibly be intermediate if I was never a beginner? A few months later, I would rue that decision at the holiday recital, when I danced in a candy cane colored cowgirl outfit amid a long line of toddlers. They stuck me in the middle for symmetry, because I was twice as tall as all the other kids. It was the embarrassing end to a ridiculously easy course. But instead of moving onto intermediate tap the following semester, I just gave up. Sound familiar?

Still saddled with this stupid NCB, I asked Dan what he thought. Should I start with the beginner's writing course or take the advanced one? "Advanced Fiction Writing. That is definitely the class you should take." Sigh! I look forward to the day when I can make that decision on my own, but at least I'm finally able to take the advice.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Crying Baby Email

I got the fucking crying baby email today. I used to get this stupid forward all the time when I worked with a bunch of depressed women (one of them sent it to me twice in the same month), but I hadn't seen it in years and thought I was finally free of this nonsense. This time it came from a very kind and well-meaning guy, who happens to like forwarding stuff.

What is the crying baby email? It's a condescending missive to women, chock-full of handy tips on how to not get raped. I've seen a few versions. One claims that a survey of sex offenders reveals that they like to attack women with ponytails (easy to get a firm caveman grip), so don't have long hair! Or you'll get raped! Every single one of these "safety" forwards tells the story about the crying baby on the porch, and I quote -

Someone just told me that her friend heard a crying baby on her porch the night before last, and she called the police because it was late and she thought it was weird.. The police told her 'Whatever you do, DO NOT open the door..' The lady then said that it sounded like the baby had crawled near a window, and she was worried that it would crawl to the street and get run over.The policeman said, 'We already have a unit on the way, whatever you do, DO NOT open the door.' He told her that they think a serial killer has a baby's cry recorded and uses it to coax women out of their homes thinking that someone dropped off a baby. He said they have not verified it, but have had several calls by women saying that they hear baby's cries outside their doors when they're home alone at night.

Let's examine a few key phrases here. "Someone just told me that her friend heard a crying baby..." Who is this someone and who is this someone's friend? Even better, who sent this email in the first place? Or how about "they have not verified it"? And are cops really in the practice of revealing the existence of a local serial killer during a 911 call? Who wrote this dumb script?

Here's my favorite part of the email I received today -

This e-mail should probably be taken seriously because the Crying Baby Theory was mentioned on America 's Most Wanted when they profiled the serial killer in Louisiana

Oh that serial killer! The one and only Louisiana serial killer. Everyone knows about him! Wait, hasn't "America's Most Wanted" been on the air for 21 years? Are we to take every one of those murderers' methods into account when we go about our daily business? Or just The Louisiana Serial Killer?

I take it back - my favorite part of the email that I received today is the very first sentence, if you can call it a sentence -

because of recent abductions In daylight hours, refresh yourself of these things to do in an emergency situation....

Recent abductions? Where, in Kenya? I've heard that they have had a slew of recent abductions, but I'm not there. In fact, there's an excellent chance that I live nowhere near the person who crafted this email. I know I definitely don't live near the person who sent it to me. But it sure is a chilling statement. The whole email is disturbing. It makes you afraid of everyday life.

I swear to Jeebus, the people who write this crap are in cahoots with the producers of "Law & Order SVU" to make women fearful. If you really want to encourage your women friends to be safe, then recommend a self-defense course. I took one when I was 17 and learned practical skills that I use every time I am out alone. And when I came out of that class, I felt positive and self-assured. Sure, the crying baby email contains a few practical tips, but all within the context of hysterical, anecdotal nonsense. It doesn't leave you feeling empowered. It leaves you feeling scared.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Over the Lights, Under the Moon

After several years of estrangement, I've started hanging out with my siblings again. It's weird. My mom just bought a house here in Michigan and she's really excited to share her new home. Her new-found and unprecedented happiness is pretty irresistible, so I visit her as much as I can. And sometimes that means hanging out with the sibs who live around here.

Everyone has been really nice. In fact, it's shocking to see how pleasant and positive they've all become. I credit the passing of my jerk father for that change in the weather, because family gatherings used to be a super depressoid scene. I wouldn't go so far as to call the current get-togethers "fun" because I feel like an outsider. I guess that seems natural, given that I missed a big chunk of their lives. But really, by virtue of birth order and age range, I always was on the outside. That used to make me really sad (one of the reasons I decided to go my own way, actually). Now that I've built my own life, it doesn't matter as much, but it's still alienating.

I can deal with that awkwardness for a few hours at a time, every month or so, but I struggle with the exhaustion. There's so much bottled up emotion in all of us. We tend to laugh hard, in part because we're all so amused by ourselves, but also because it's the one common and comfortable mode of expressing some very intense feelings. When you get several of us in a room together, it's overwhelming.

I have to find other outlets for my emotions. Being around my family has reminded me how much I hold in. It wears me down. I also suspect that I could funnel that feeling into something creative and perhaps even beautiful, which would make me so happy. And if I don't succeed at that, I'll gladly settle for peace of mind!

As a remedy for this bottled-up syndrome, I've been listening to a lot of Kate Bush. She's my new artistic role model. Ever since she was signed to a major label as a teenager, she's labored with a very clear notion of how exactly she would express herself.

In those first couple years, she didn't release anything or engage in any kind of promotion, but focused instead on songwriting, interpretive dance and mime. Her first single was "Wuthering Heights", which she wrote when she was 15. In it, Bush channels the spirit of Cathy and sings to Heathcliff about her all-consuming love for him, begging, "Heathcliff! It's me Cathy. I've come home, I'm so cold. Let me into your window!" The lyrical retelling of the story is sublime, but her ethereal voice takes the narrative to another level. She could sing a song called "Wuthering Heights" in complete gibberish, but if the melody were the same, you would still feel as if you had stepped into the story. Bush's performance infuses the song with a feeling and an understanding that is inevitably lost in the hands of other singers. Still, hearing other artists cover "Wuthering Heights" is a lot fun. It's just a great song.

In 1979, Bush embarked on her first and only tour. It was an intricate and highly theatrical production in which the interpretive-dancing Bush pioneered the use of a cordless mic (take that, Britney). Again, Bush had a very clear idea of how she wanted to express herself, but the tour was costly and exhausting. So in the next several years, she did a lot of one-off tv and live performances and made some truly avant garde music videos, many of which can be found on Youtube. Early music video technology really suited an artist like Bush. She more than makes up for the lack of pizazz in the medium itself with her unusual vocal style and choreography. She's beautiful, too, which helps.

I used to think that Kate Bush was loopy and pretentious. Her voice grated on me. I scoffed at the "Love and Anger" video when I first saw it on "Beavis and Butthead". And I cringed when I heard a rumor years ago that she refused to tour internationally because she feared that crossing large bodies of water would interfere with her witchcraft. But after doing some research, I don't think that rumor is true. What is true is that Bush has lived a relatively quiet and secluded life, releasing just two albums in the last 16 years. For most of her career, she's shied away from heavy promotion and has been silent between album releases. The media has filled in those quiet years with all manner of tawdry gossip (so easy to attach to a maverick like Bush). But in her interviews, she's thoroughly articulate and rational. I think she has to be a little loopy to write songs like "Wuthering Heights" and create interpretive dance accompaniments. But it's as if she funnels that loopiness into this arresting and aggressively captivating art, leaving her brain completely refreshed. And that's just how I want to be.

As an example, I've attached the video for "Army Dreamers" from her 1980 album "Never For Ever". This isn't my favorite of her songs (my currents jams are "Kite" - from which the title of this blog originates - and, surprising to myself, the highly dissonant "Sat in Your Lap"), but I think it's one of her best music videos.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why I Don't Have a Facebook Account

Let me start by saying this - I know I'm missing out. Sometimes, not having a Facebook account feels like not being invited to the cool party where all your friends are hanging out. But that's not true. Of course I've been invited, the whole world is invited! It's more like choosing to not go to the cool party where your friends are hanging out because you're certain that you will also run into some of the biggest jerks you know.

The result is that I'm uninformed about all sorts of things that are known to most of my social sphere - who did what when and all of the documenting photos, birthdays, notices of upcoming events including (especially - sigh!) parties. And I understand why nearly everyone I know uses this tool to keep each other updated. It's convenient (not to mention a great way to waste time at work). In other words, I know why I should have a Facebook account.

Since I closed my account last winter, many people have asked me why. The funniest query came from my brother-in-law's parents, who must be nearing their seventies. I thought they were joking until I looked into their utterly serious eyes. I guess some people have been affronted by my lack of involvement in the Facebook universe.

I wrote an anti-Facebook blog after I closed my account, but I was much grumpier about it then. Distance has given me a less emotional perspective and so I've given the question some honest consideration. Why don't I have a Facebook account? Here are some answers -

The Jerk Factor This is the problem with any social networking site. I hate that feeling I get when my computer tells me that some person I don't like wants to be my friend. Then I have to ask myself - do I dislike this person enough that I will straight up reject them, or do I just avoid clicking a button? The difference between Facebook and other social networking sites is that almost everyone uses this one. Its popularity increases the likelihood of this unpleasant experience occurring.

The Format Flatters No One Have you ever known a person who seemed really cool and then they started doing coke and became a total jackass? When I see someone on Facebook, it's like seeing them on coke.

The update section is the worst. What if someone recorded my silly everyday banter and published it? I would sound inane. That's the quality of the update section of a Facebook account, where you broadcast what you are thinking or doing and others may comment. Half of what I'm thinking isn't worth saying, and 95% of what I say is definitely not worth writing down. This is true for most people, and Facebook makes that truth painfully clear.

Surprisingly, I don't find Twitter as irritating, maybe because it's only updates. I'm sure there are countless individuals like myself who started tweeting, quickly realized that they had nothing substantive to share, and gave up. Facebook lures you with a dizzying array of features including updates. I think most people post updates just because they're logged in and it seems the thing to do.

Don't even get me started on the quizzes. "What style font are you?" I get embarrassed for the people who bother with that stuff.

Because I See Enough of My Coworkers Already And I honestly mean no offense to them by saying that. All of them are super cool, a blessing in this absurd world in which we spend 40 hours a week in little rooms with the same people. And because I like and respect these people, I would feel like a bum if I didn't befriend them on Facebook. But I don't need to know how they're doing in the evening or on the weekend. I'll find out soon enough.

I'm Just Not That Social The ultimate reason that I deactivated my Facebook account is that I found it overwhelming. I've spent a good chunk of my life trying to be invisible. Without getting into the nitty gritty details, I'll say that invisibility was a survival skill from childhood that unfortunately stuck with me. I'm not nearly as shy as I used to be, but I'm a long way from feeling comfortable with posting pictures of myself, pretending to have 60 or so friends, or kidding myself that I'm actually going to hang out with a long lost classmate. It feels fake.

In short, I don't have a Facebook account because it isn't an enjoyable experience for me. I know this is inconvenient for my friends and family, and I'm sorry for that. But please know that I'm still available by phone, email, the USPS, and at my front door. I may not have an exciting update to share, but I'm always game for conversation.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pickled in Eye Brine

Earlier this week, I had the most humiliating work experience ever. Really. It had been a long, frustrating day - nothing that I couldn't have handled with a full night of rest, but this was my third day in a week of working on just four hours of sleep. The dread of coming to work was keeping me up late.

The tipping point was a shitty customer, of course. Again, nothing I couldn't have normally handled with a sense of humor and some frigid courtesy, but I was just so tired. She made me cry, but that wasn't as bad as what followed. I would love to blame her for it, but she was merely the twist that flipped the tap on my tear ducts. It was the phone that wouldn't stop ringing and the utter lack of privacy in my workspace that made me sob at my desk for an hour straight.

In the old days, when a customer made you cry, you had a free pass to leave the room, take a walk, smoke a cigarette, break something - whatever you needed to get yourself better. But it was such a busy day, and I didn't feel like I could leave. All of my coworkers were having a hard time getting their work done. I suppose that's why five other people were able to sit with me in that one little room and completely block out my breakdown. That was the most humiliating work moment to date.

How did it all get so fucked up? I've had more "important" jobs where I've been paid an actual salary to deal with that sort of stress, but I purposely sought out an hourly wage one that I wouldn't have to think about when I was at home. Making "home" my real life is more important to me than money. And I picked this company because I knew they were known for treating their employees well.

Truly, for the first 14 months, it was a dream. It was challenging enough to keep me from being bored, I worked with really cool people, I always knew what was expected of me and I rarely felt overwhelmed. I had occasional bad days that left a sour taste in my mouth, but I got over those pretty swiftly. Actually, I often thought about work when I was at home, but mostly in a happy way.

Six months ago, my supervisor announced that he was leaving. Then came the drawn out hiring and training of a new supervisor. Most people hate change and react to it poorly, which was the case. On top of that, our sales plummeted and some of my co-workers were laid off. Now, we are very suddenly busy again, with even less staff than usual (the layoff plan didn't account for already-scheduled vacations and unforeseen illness). I've been trying to remind myself that these problems are temporal, but one big problem seems to succeed the next without any breathing space. And though I used to take pride in the fact that I never dreaded going to work, I find this one dreadful about 50% of the time.

I think the worst part is seeing myself become so negative. I'm usually the person who takes the dopey shit in stride and laughs it off, keeping my petty grievances to myself. I don't find commiseration particularly useful, yet I've been indulging in a lot of griping lately. It's just not the way I want to be. I make a point of not bitching about one co-worker to another (unless it's someone I really can't stand), but I've been doing that, too. Highly undignified, sorta like trying to talk to a customer about their invoice while choking back tears. A year ago, I just couldn't have imagined it being like this.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Kicked the Habit, Shed My Skin

As I mentioned before, one of the things I love about karaoke is the way it gives you a fresh perspective on a familiar old song. On a recent evening, I was perusing the songbook at our favorite bar down the road. I wanted to sing something I had never performed before, but knew well enough to sing on the fly. Then I stumbled across Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer".

When I was in the 3rd grade, my parents bought our family our first VCR for Christmas. The first two things we recorded, in some order, were The Beastie Boys "Fight for Your Right to Party" video and the video for "Sledgehammer" - both of which we watched over and over and over. For years, "Sledgehammer" was touted by MTV as The Best Video Ever (it very well may be to this day), so it got a lot of play well after exiting the Top 40. Based on video viewings alone, I know every beat of that song. And I thought I knew every word.

When I got up to sing that night, the janky karaoke monitor got staticky for a moment and that first line, the one that leads into the verse, was illegible. Since I could never make out what he was saying - it sounded something like "Help me / eh ba da ba doo day" - I just ad-libbed "Help me / I can't read the lyrics". Perhaps the monitor heard me, because it righted itself and I had no trouble singing the rest of the song.

In fact, it was the most fun I've had singing a karaoke song! What a joyous piece of music, and all that "Come on, come on help me through / YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YOU" was a great way to get out my aggression in a non-violent fashion*

I was eager to sing it again last Friday at the Circus Bar in Ann Arbor, where we were celebrating a friend's birthday. The Circus karaoke is hosted by Stoo's, which is the high-end, shiny, wait-in-line-for-two-and-a-half-hours-to-sing karaoke. I prefer my white trash bar down the road, but I will say that Stoo's monitors don't get staticky. And when I finally got to the stage, I discovered what the first line is

"Hey hey / Is anybody using?"

And now I finally know what this song is about! I assumed that "Sledgehammer" was just code for a big, erect penis. Yes, I've come to accept the limitations of my low, mannish voice, and that sometimes I'm just going to sing a song about having a boisterous penis. If it's a good enough song, I'm cool with that. But that isn't what this song is about, or at least it's not all this song is about.

Rather, I think that the sledgehammer is the happy, natural fix that a recovering drug addict gets when they are finally sober - it could be sex or dancing or some other sort of good, clean fun. It's that thing you are so thrilled to find enjoyable after the detox, because isn't that the worst thing about coming off of any drug? That wondering if you will ever have fun again?

When Gabriel sings "I wanna be your sledgehammer," he's telling a friend that he wants to be that source of joy that helps them get over their detox blues. It reminds me of that line from David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes" when he says "Want an axe to break the ice / want to come down right now". It's that same idea of breaking through the cloud of addiction, but it's a hell of a lot cheerier. "Sledgehammer" isn't a song about getting sober. It's song about finding a reason to stay sober.

At least, that's what I think it's about. I could just be talking out of my ass. Anyway, I suggest watching the video.

* work has been a bit rough lately

Friday, September 4, 2009

My Bay Area Adventure - Days 3 & 4

Who's excited about babies?

The last two days in the Bay Area were pretty mellow. Dan and I took a bus up to Cotati, a little town about an hour north of the city, and stayed with some family friends. They just had this baby (pictured in the back mirror). He is well on his way to being a hearty, healthy giant. Less than 4 months old, he has already doubled his birth weight.

Needless to say, I was smitten. Hanging with him and his parents was what we did during those last couple days. A lovely time, but not much to blog about.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Bay Area Adventure - Day 2

Sunday, August 9
7:30 am

Based on nothing more than my glee, I have higher-than-usual expectations for the continental breakfast. And yet, it is delicious. The bran muffin - so warm and so sweet! The crumb is actually crumbly. Are these homemade? Dan and I are certain until I see a staff person schlepping a box clearly labeled “Otis Spunkmeyer”. To their credit, microwaving the muffins definitely makes them taste better. The French Roast is truly noteworthy.

8:30 am

Dan has set off on conference-related business, so I hit the streets alone, heading toward Chinatown.

It feels so good to walk around a city by myself, going my own pace. I would sometimes walk around Detroit alone, but those treks were carefully calculated to be as safe as possible (take busy roads only, bring the dog, wear headphones so no one tries to talk to me, dress like a freak for the same reason, etc). It's so great to be in a place where 1) I don't need to worry about that stuff and 2) I can actually enjoy the sights.

At this Sunday hour, all of the businesses are shuttered, but I still enjoy roaming the streets and checking out the vendors. Yes, even Chinatown has a falafel shop.

Some of this is familiar to me, because I stayed in this neighborhood with my mom 19 years ago. I recognize a pretty little park with a playground and a giant statue of a man named Sun Yat Sen. There are about a dozen elderly Asian people practicing martial arts. A floral smell wafts through the air and the sun is out. I'm so happy to be here.

10:30 am

I'm with my friend, who I will call Alex. Alex was my boss until a couple months ago (the best boss ever!), but he recently moved to San Francisco to be with his boyfriend... and to live in paradise. We've found a pleasant, mellow hotel restaurant where they serve a variety of Eggs Benedict and you don't have to wait in line for a table. I am regaling Alex with all of the awful workplace drama that went down after he left. Despite all the nutty news, we are constantly cracking up laughing. We drink a lot of coffee. Our slightly overattentive waiter eventually brings the bill but assures us that there is no rush to settle. He then asks, “Are you on your honeymoon?”

Alex and I laugh some more. “No, we're just friends!” But the waiter insists. “Maybe later?” Then he says something inscrutable about Obama doing the same thing. Frustrated, I point to my wedding ring for the first (and hopefully last) time in my life and say, “I'm married to someone else, so that would be a problem.” Alex adds, “There are a lot of problems.” I laugh so hard that my stomach hurts and when the waiter walks away, I tell Alex how funny his comment was. He shrugs and says, “Well, you know, I didn't want to give him a heart attack.”

12:30 pm

Alex and I are hoofing about Chinatown, through the now crowded streets, up and down the hills. 90% of the merchandise is priced next to nothing, because it's all made in China. But if you care to spend $50 on 4 oz of tea, that can be arranged.

3:00 pm

At the new hotel, Dan is prepping for his presentation. I slip out to grab some lunch from the retro 50's diner up the block. It's the first day on the job for the girl at the counter, so she keeps asking the senior waitress for help. The latter looks just like Johnny Depp's grandma in “Cry Baby”. Both of them are super friendly. That's a trend in this town.

6:15 pm

Dan has presented his research on food acquisition in Detroit neighborhoods at a session on environmental racism. The woman hosting the session tells him “I was crying tears of laughter when I read your paper. Your style of writing is so deadpan and dadaistic” ? The other presenters respond to it very well. Dan's buddy from undergrad at Florida (I'll call him Trey) shows up, and we all head out on the town to celebrate.

7:00 pm

Even on a Sunday night, we can't find a ready table at any of the nearby sushi bars. We head down to Dojima Ann (the place I spotted on the first night). Along the way I see a very angry man clenching a copy of Time magazine with a Dick Cheney cover story, alternately shaking a clenched fist and pointing at Cheney with a homicidal expression. I guess that some of the mentally ill people on the streets of San Fran can stand up to Detroit's best. We all instinctively slow our pace and let him pass.

7:30 pm

Success comes to those who are willing to sit at the bar. As others wait for tables, I am feasting on the best agedashi tofu.

9:30 pm

Sitting in Trey's hotel room, sipping Grey Goose, I feel like I'm in a Dashiell Hammet story, except that we are watching youtube videos on Trey's iphone. Trey shows us Hurricane Chris's “Halle Berry” and teaches us the dance – primp the hair, powder the face, check the compact.

11:30 pm

We are singing karaoke at a Mexican restaurant. There are less than a dozen people here. The songbook is tiny and full of typos. Try to spot my favorite -

Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gays
Mary Chapin Carpenter

I sing “Build Me Up Buttercup” and “The Tide is High”. Dan does Lauryn Hill's “Doo Wop (That Thing)” which is a barnstormer, as always.

1:30 pm

Waiting for the restroom at another bar. A very average looking young woman emerges. Now that's something I like about this town – unlike New York, not everyone is super glam. You see all types here. When I enter the restroom, I notice that the toilet seat is up. Why, that was a highly convincing trannie!

2:30 pm

Dan is sure that someone must be wanting to deliver us a pizza, but I... am... falling... asl...

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Bay Area Adventure - Day 1

Saturday, August 8

9:00 am, Eastern Daylight Time

...though I am technically flying over the central time zone. Do time zones exist at 38,000 feet? I say no. I have entirely too much square footage of arm and leg to ever be comfortable in this seat. I lean over my tray table, trying to stretch my neck. Mmm, peanuts. Good old Southwest! Used to be the no-frills airline. Now it's the only one that lets you check a bag for free and gives you salty snacks. My tray table smells like an old, overused kitchen sponge. Probably from the sponge that wiped this thing down. Did someone puke here?

9:45 am, bizarre Arizona "we don't believe in Daylight Saving Time" time

Phoenix. What an asshole airport. I just spent $15 on a salad. I know, that only means that I'm at an airport. What gets me about this place is that I had to ride a dozen 1/4 mile moving walkways to get to this food court. Even the airport is absurdly wasteful in its sprawl.

3:00 pm, Pacific Daylight Time

San Francisco! Civilization!! I am riding the BART from the airport to downtown. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I had no trouble or stress getting from the terminal to the luggage claim to the shuttle to the BART. It's all so... self-explanatory.

6:00 pm

Dan and I wander from our downtown hotel east to the Ferry Building. It's an unusually warm evening in SF. I'm thrilled to be back in a thriving city, with lots of people and tall buildings (none of which appear to be abandoned). As we head down Market Street, we see a grown woman holler at a pigeon. I feel a flash of warm fuzziness for Detroit, where this sort of public nuttiness is so common. Here in paradise, it's sorta quaint.

Ferry Building - I must stop in at the Cowgirl Creamery cheese shop. Hey, they're selling my company's cheese! Crap, it's even more expensive here than it is at home. I run out the door.

Speaking of expensive, I spend $18 on a bowl of clam chowder at the Hog Island Oyster Company. Totally worth it. The broth is lightly buttery, infused with bacon fat. The clams are still in their shells, piled in the center of the bowl and topped with bacon, corn and potato. I like that it takes a little time to detach the clams from the shells. It prevents me from downing the bowl in one fell gulp.

9:15 pm

Dan asks me to join him at a sociology conference reception, hosted by his University of Michigan compadres. Sure, what the hell. I'm giddy.

It's a typical grad student gathering where everyone talks shop and I haven't much to say. It's the stuff of some really un-fun parties, but it doesn't bug me as much in this decidedly academic environment. It is a conference, after all.

What's really cool is that the reception is on the gazillionth floor of a fancy hotel and there are chocolate chip cookies + wine. I sit by the window and take in the view.

10:00 pm

Heading back to our hotel, we spot a sushi place where a lot of Japanese people are hanging out. I make a mental note.

11:00 pm

Despite the cars and the crowd and the street saxophonist playing "Happy Birthday" to no one in particular and the Santana cover band in the distance and the TV tuned to AMC's neverending run of "Stripes", I... am... drifting... to... sleee...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On Not Becoming Rich and Famous

My summer has revolved around a series of painful flashes of self awareness. I experienced the first one in late April. It happened shortly after a visit to my therapist. I had been telling him about a co-worker's delusion of grandeur (someone, in my opinion, was taking the job a bit too seriously). In my estimation, that particular individual was probably not employed in the sort of job that their education or background had promised, and overcompensation was a way of coping with those ruined expectations. In my own backwards, haughty way, I surmised, "I feel oddly lucky that I wasn't raised to have any expectation of being happy or successful. It saves me from that kind of disappointment."

My therapist gave me a funny look and turned the subject back to me trying to get along with my co-worker. "So, this person thought they would be doing something better than this job. But in this economy, they should be happy that they even have a job. And here you are - coming from your crazy family, with the alcoholic father - and now your life is pretty good. You have a nice husband. You aren't a drunk or an addict. You're making okay money. You're doing alright."

He went on to say some other stuff, but I was distracted by the sting. When I contemplate my life's trajectory, I don't like to think of myself as "pretty good" or "alright". I prefer "awesome turnabout!" to describe where I'm at. And yet, I know that "pretty good" is pretty good descriptor for my life, and that's pretty damned lucky in this harsh world.

And then, the moment came. I was working out at the gym later that afternoon when it hit me - I will probably never become rich or famous. You see, even though I was not raised with any expectation of accomplishing a goal, or getting an education, or finding a husband, there has been a little part of me, going all the way back to childhood, that assumed that I would someday become rich and famous. That assumption was so ingrained in my psyche that I never even thought to question it - until now. Talk about delusions of grandeur!

I brought up my revelation at my next therapy session. What I really wanted to know was, do other people have this delusion, or am I special kind of crazy? My therapist chuckled and told me that everyone daydreams. And daydreams do affect the way people live their daily lives. But discussing one's daydreams is generally a taboo, even in therapy. In other words, "who knows?" answers the first question and "not really" answers the latter.

This idea of not being rich or famous has changed me forever. For one thing, I've been forced to ask myself why I would want those things anyway. I mean, I could always stand more money, but I know too many unhappy rich people to assume that it would give me much pleasure. And I know I would suck at being famous. I'm too shy, too much of a loner. I can't even handle having a Facebook account.

I guess the thing that I long for is recognition. I don't need to be famous, but I do need to know that my self-expression is appreciated. Like, there's this woman at work who tells me every week that she enjoys reading my corny, pun-filled meeting minutes. And as pathetic as it may seem, that brings me joy. I think the highlight of the last month was when I sang "Turn to Stone" at a seedy karaoke bar in Dearborn Heights, and I guy came up to me afterward and said that I sounded like the singer from The Motels. I don't even like the song "Only the Lonely," but he does, and I can take a compliment like that any day.

My more recent conundrum is this - the more recognition I receive, the more I want. I discussed this with my therapist at our most recent session and he says that this is some weird thing called "ambition". He claims that this new found ambition is a good thing, a sign that I am progressing in the style of a happy person. I would rather return to those blissful days when I had no desire to make myself more recognized, but here I am. Oh, well. I guess I can accept that there is some middle ground between "dirt poor and unknown" and "rich and famous".

Monday, August 3, 2009

No Justice, No Piece of Pie

On the last Saturday in July, Dan and I attended Pie Lovers Unite at the Ladies' Literary Club in Ypsilanti. It was an affair as awkward as it was tasty.

The entry fee for the event was either $5 a head or 1 pie per family. Of course, we had to bring one of Dan's fabulous pies, with his one-of-a kind crack crust. Before Dan started making crust, I always thought that pie was pretty lame. But that's only because most crusts are disgusting. The common myth is that you must use shortening (a.k.a. the world's least enjoyable fat). The key to Dan's pie crust is butter, just a little lard, and coarse sea salt. Yum! A good crust may not be the best tasting part of a great pie, but it is always the most valuable player.

Slow Food Huron Valley sponsors Pie Lovers Unite. In keeping with their mission, they encouraged entrants to use only local ingredients. Even though you can't grow a lemon in Michigan, we decided to bring a lemon meringue pie. Screw it. What's a pie contest without lemon meringue?

And so we set out for the Ladies' Literary Club, citrus pie in tow. The Club was packed by the time we got there. The atmosphere was sort of like a church hall gathering crossed with a Jane Austen drawing room scene - lots of little old ladies, attractive young people and questionable manners. The front parlor was crowded with self-proclaimed pie lovers seated around a dozen small card tables. We wound up in the back dining room, which was really the best place to be. The judges sat at one end of the room, sampling bits of every pie, all of which were stacked high on a massive table in the center of the room. I was perfectly content to stand there, ogling the pies and sipping a cup of coffee (from the aptly named Mighty Good coffee company) as the more formal ceremony took place in the adjacent parlor.

It was a pretty weird program. The emcee, though mild-mannered and pleasant, seemed to enjoy the microphone more than it flattered her. She spoke of pie passion in a humdrum monotone. She tried to rile up the crowd with a battle cry, raising her voice just a smidgen to say

"Pie lovers"

to which three people responded, "Unite"

"Pie lovers"


And that was that.

The next order of business was the pie-ku reading (yep, haikus about pie), followed by the pie walk. I'd heard of a cake walk before, but never really knew what it was. For the pie walk, participants gathering in a circle around the pie table and marching clockwise to some polka music. There were paper signs taped to the floor, each with the name of a local farm on it. When the music stopped, so did the participants. Then the emcee called out the name of one of those farms, and whoever happened to be standing on that farm's sign won a prize. I could totally get down with that.

But since there wasn't enough space for everyone to compete in a single pie walk, there were several. And then, the emcee came up with random and bizarre qualifiers, like "If you're wearing sandals, you get to be in this pie walk!" The most annoying qualifier was, "If you keep chickens in your backyard, you get to be in this pie walk!" I hate the way the slow food movement alienates working class people - renters can't partake in that pie walk!

If I ever host a pie walk, I'm going to come up with qualifiers that get you excited about the not-so-great details of your life like, "If you've ever had an abortion, you get to be in this pie walk!" That way, everyone has a chance to feel good about themselves.

Perhaps it's jokes like that that make me a pariah. I must have had the word "avoid" tattooed on my head that day, because I saw several co-workers at Pie Lovers Unite and only two of them spoke to me willingly (I tip my hat to HM and LG for being so kind). One woman averted her glance when I smiled and waved and another bolted when I said "Hello". I really try to not take this stuff personally, but it's getting to be a little tough.

My favorite awkward moment of the night happened when LG (who was one of the judges) gave me some very thoughtful feedback on the only lemon meringue pie in the competition. She swore that the whole panel was impressed with the "jiggle" of the meringue, and that the filling was considered well set. I gushed, "LG, I feel like I'm on Iron Chef!" And just as I was starting to feel at home at PLU, a thoroughly obnoxious woman approached us. She knew LG, but I knew her, too. I'll call her Bertha. Bertha volunteers at the theater where I used to work. She's a nightmare, one of those townies that you can never get rid of. Terrible manners, loud, crass, dumb.

In spite of all that, I tried smiling and waving at her, too. We're all pie lovers, right? She ignored me, until she was just about to walk away. Then she turned to me, stared down her bulbous nose and said, "Hey, you look familiar. Where do I know you from?" I connected the dots to the theater, and she replied, "Oh, I haven't seen you there in a long time." Then she turned on her heel and wobbled away.

Alas, Dan's entry did not win a prize, but we did get to eat a lot of pies - savory, sweet, some well crusted (though many were not). I got a pretty wicked sugar rush that night, right before I headed down to the karaoke pub. All in all, it was a pretty fab Ypsi night, despite all the social awkwardness and unfair pie walks.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Blueberries, Blown Glass and Baby Bluebirds

My life started getting significantly better on Thursday, when I enjoyed a lovely adventure with Dan and our friends, Jeff and Stephanie. The four of us drove out to Grass Lake to pick organic blueberries at a place named (appropriately) The Blueberry Patch. When we arrived, we pulled into a small, grassy lot beside an old-fashioned steel trailer with a pick-up window on its side. There we found the proprietors, Mr. and Ms. Toth - she a soft spoken farm woman and he a goofy, bearded, old hippie. Spotting Jeff's ample beard, Mr Toth shouted, "Hey, it looks like me coming up to the window!" He was a crack-up, spouting non-sequitirs like, "God took one look at me and said, 'You get nothin' retard!' and that's how I wound up looking like this." I could tell right away that we had found a very special place.

The patch itself was a bit of heaven. I had never seen blueberry shrubs before. These were a bit taller than me, covered in shiny, lush green leaves. The verdant hedgerows, the canopy of bird-proof netting overhead and the absence of any other visitors created a very cozy, bucolic setting. The patch had been open for only four days, but already the most easily accessible shrubs were thoroughly picked over. So the four of us pushed our way through narrowing aisle ways, in search of abundant fruit. In little time, I was alone and chest-high in a sea of berries, which ranged from hard, pale, and unripe to a dark, succulent blue. Despite the thickening foliage, my quest for ripe fruit became a compulsion. I dove under shrubs and wove my way up through the branches, grabbing every navy-colored berry I could reach. It was exhilarating! It's the closest I've ever come to literal tree-hugging... more like shrub-groping, I suppose. Eventually, the intense glare of the sunlight on the leaves overcame my greed for berries - I think that maybe my eyeballs got sunburned - and alas, I had to emerge from the patch.

We went to settle our our purchase at the trailer - which doubles as a diner - and sampled some of the Toth's deep-fried cinnamon donuts, fresh brewed coffee, and blueberry smoked barbecue chicken. Yes, the chicken tasted like blueberres. It was magical.

From there we headed northeast, past Dexter, to a refurbished lakeside cottage. This was the home of a man who I'll call Fred. Fred is an acquaintance of Stephanie, an older gentleman who is an avid collector of glass and ceramic. His home is a shrine to decorative arts, a mini Victoria and Albert Museum. The man has a room full of Tiffany lamps. I can't imagine the monetary worth of his collection. He showed us a brilliantly colored ceramic Eucharist server that came from the Vatican and also pointed to a piece of pottery that was crafted in the late 1600s. What amazes me is that I sense this man genuinely loves every one of the hundreds of articles he owns. You can tell that he is an extremely warm person.

My favorite space was the burgundy carpeted Rose Room, the walls of which were filled with shelves of rose colored glassware. Fred was so generous in sharing his home with us, showing us each room and his favorite pieces within. He encouraged us to handle some of the pieces, especially the peach blown glassware, which felt just like silk.

Fred had recently added another very different novelty to his collection. He installed a tiny video camera inside his backyard bluebird house. We sat in his kitchen, watching a live video feed of the mama bird tending to her babies. It was the best, most utterly absorbing show I've seen on TV in ages. Every time mama bird returned to the nest with a bit of grass or a worm, the little ones screeched and begged, their little mouths agape, downy feathers mussed. I don't completely understand the beauty in that desperate, frenzied image, and yet it was beautiful.

It was the perfect end to an intensely sensual journey.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Zenobia's Special Day!

One of our friends, who was adopted as an infant, has no idea when she was actually born. So, in lieu of a birthday, she has a Special Day - the day on which she was adopted.

Today is my cat Zenobia's Special Day. I'm guessing that she is about 18 months old, but since I don't know for sure, I have chosen July 27th as the day to celebrate her glorious existence. One year ago today, we used our Humane Society of Huron Valley cat adoption gift certificate (a wedding gift from our friends Bizzy and Matt) to procure this sweet, rambunctious feline. Though her previous owners had named her Princess Leia, we decided to promote her to Zenobia, the historic queen of Palmyra. Okay, I didn't really know that Palmyra business until I looked it up after the fact - we actually named her after a character from the 4th season of The Wire.

It's been a lovely year. This long, skinny, Egyptian kitty fattened into a healthy dynamo. She's even grown to love her canine big sister Dulce, though she would only hiss at her when they first met. Now she sleeps next to Dulce every night, for at least part of the night. She likes to spend the other part of the wee hours annoying us - scratching furniture, attacking our feet, climbing over our sleepy heads. Her other favorite activities include eating bug exoskeletons, getting high on catnip, organizing her furry mouse toys and playing with shoes. Sometimes, when I'm getting ready to leave the house, I go to put on a shoe and find a mousy toy gift inside. So beguiled by her cuteness am I that I forget how annoyed I am for having been woken up three times in the middle of the night.

When Dan was living in Detroit, Zenobia was instrumental in keeping me from being completely lonely and miserable. Dan had Dulce with him (it just made more sense, what with my ten hour work-day-and-commute), so it was really comforting to have another creature in the house. And when I felt really sad, she would lick my arm with the soft part of her tongue. She's a very sensitive girl. I love her.

Happy 1st Special Day, Zenobia! It seems like my life must have been so lacking before you came around.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

10 Things You May Not Know about Me

I've never seen "Ghostbusters"

I have one shred of empathy for George W Bush. Here's why - one summer night 20 years ago, when I was 12 years old, my parents and six siblings left me home alone while they dealt with a very awful family crisis (I'm being deliberately vague). Eager for a distraction, I found myself watching "Designing Women" and nervously grazing on whatever I could find in the kitchen. As I was chomping on some honey roasted peanuts, I laughed at one of Dixie Carter's hilarious quips, and then I choked on a peanut. I tried to give myself the Heimlich maneuver. It didn't work, but somehow, I dislodged the peanut and regained the ability to breathe. I think that was the loneliest moment of my life. When the W peanut story broke, I pretended to laugh with everyone else, but I actually cringe whenever I think about it.

I have no piercings or tattoos.

I bake my own crackers.

Last year, PBS aired a 10 week Masterpiece series that included adaptations of every Jane Austen novel. I wrote a 10 week blog series called Jane Addiction, in which I reviewed the series, as well as every Austen-based film I could find on DVD. You can read my reviews at www.pixilatedponderings.blogspot.com, or on my myspace page (if anyone actually uses that anymore).

I dated my first boyfriend for nearly five years. We've remained very good friends. After he and I broke up, I figured that I would stay friends with all of my future ex-boyfriends, but it doesn't really work that way.

Without contact lenses or glasses, I'm like Mr Magoo. I can't function.

I'm a big fan of violent fantasies as an alternative to actual violence (or even just frustration). I discovered this several years ago, when I dreamt of beating my bitchy boss's head against a cement floor. She didn't bug me so much after that dream.

I can't stand saying something mean to a person, even if I hate them.

I met several celebrities when I worked at a theater. Henry Rollins was the most down-to-earth. Crispin Glover was a dick. Bonnie Raitt was really beautiful and polite. Eric Idle was the tallest. But my favorite experience was meeting Gene Kelly's daughter at a presentation of "Singin' in the Rain" which is one of my all-time favorite movies. She was super nice, but the really amazing thing was that she had her father's eyes. When she spoke to me, I was entranced.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sewing Together a Quilt of Many Silences

I've been lucky in that I rarely suffer a depressing work life and a depressing home life simultaneously. Usually, if I'm having a tough time at work, I can look forward to going home; conversely, if life at home is bad, work can be a mental vacation from those woes.

The trouble right now is that both work and my personal life are a tad shitty, and for the same reason - the long and seemingly ceaseless silence that I have come to expect in both realms. For the past month or so, when I am on the clock, I spend the better part of an eight hour day staring at a computer, waiting for the phone to ring. Business is beyond bad. People were laid off earlier this week, and while I feel lucky and grateful to still have this job, I also can't get around the fact that there is almost no work to be done.

This is the first job I've ever had where I sit at a desk all day. Though I had misgivings about that arrangement, I'm basically fine with the sedentary part of it so long as I'm mentally engaged. But these days, instead of thinking toward some useful endeavor, I find myself watching the clock, dying for my shift to end (though hoping that I won't be sent home too early, because I can't afford to have my hours trimmed any further).

And when my day is finally over, I come home to my Dan-less apartment. Granted, there's more to amuse me there - my cat, my books and records, my kitchen. But I miss the conversation and the sex and the sound of his favorite song or the sight of his book.

Frankly, I'm sick of myself and the contents of my brain. I'm tired of reflection. And I'm done with trying to convince myself that surely, I must be able to dig up some sort of solution to these problems. I'm learning that there's some grace in accepting the fact that life really does just suck sometimes.

But, I can also look forward to Dan coming back tomorrow! Even though he doesn't technically move out of his Detroit place until Monday, we will be together after tonight. I also have to believe that business will pick up at work. It won't go back to being what it was when I was hired 18 months ago, but I do believe this is the nadir (that's a big show of hope from a cynic like me!).

And now, on an unrelated note, I would like to share the quote of the workday, brought to you by my coworker

Coworker (staring at a copy of Real Detroit): I wish Kid Rock was from somewhere else

It may have been the only good laugh I got out of this day, but it was a pretty damn good one

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


“Even though there is the whole confession thing, that's no free pass, because there is a crushing guilt that comes with being a Catholic. Whether things are good or bad or you're simply... eating tacos in the park, there is always the crushing guilt.”
- Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) on 30 Rock episode 1.17 “The Fighting Irish”

Even though I am an atheist, I’ve come to accept the fact that I will probably be Catholic for the rest of my life. If you grew up in a Catholic, church-going family, you know what I mean. It isn’t about believing in heaven or hell or god. It’s that crushing guilt, the kind that sticks to your bones and your brain and your soul and makes you say, “Oh, I’m sorry!” when someone steps on your toes.

Or here’s a great example. A few summers ago, Dan treated me to a romantic, alfresco Mexican lunch on a sunny weekday afternoon. And as I ate my tacos in the park, I felt guilty that I wasn’t at work. I remember that passing and seemingly mundane moment like it just happened. Needless to say, I was blown away when I watched that episode of “30 Rock”. The two words that best describe this instance of art randomly imitating my life are “sad” and “hilarious”.

I hope to convey those sensations to you, reader friend, through a series of writings about being Catholic and trying to become less so. Even if I’ll always be a little Catholic, I’ve learned that I really can be more confident, less fearful, and infinitely happier if I aggressively attack my neurotic Catholic bullshit (henceforth to be known as NCB). Through countless therapy sessions and many prudent social choices, I’ve stripped away a lot of that suffocating NCB. And since I already enjoy exposing and making fun of my sore spots in my writing, I figure, why the hell not?


Frightened Sheep Mentality

Dan and I were driving home late one night a couple months ago. I was thoroughly exhausted. I had felt woozy and dizzy earlier in the evening, and hadn't eaten anything for several hours. As we were heading back to Ypsi, my appetite returned with a ferocity that could not be ignored. I had to eat something.

There were few open establishments at that hour. Fast food joints were about the only option, so I settled on Steak & Shake, or as Dan calls it, "Stomachache". Even though Steak & Shake is somewhat less disgusting than McDonald's or White Castle, I couldn't bear the thought of a burger and fries at that hour. I just needed enough food to prevent a sleepless night of tummy rumbling.

I stared at the back lit, drive-through menu board for several minutes. Dan recommended the grilled cheese. Granted, it was a relatively light option, but I knew I would ultimately be disappointed by anything served on "Texas Toast". I had to get some fries with that, just for moral support. But I didn't want too much...

Why the Kid's Meal - of course! Just enough fries and baby Sprite to help me digest half of a greasy grilled cheese sandwich. It was all I needed.

But, no. That wasn't for me. I sighed.

Dan could tell I was changing my mind. "Why don't you get the Kid's Meal?" he asked.

I whispered, "But the Kid's Meal is for children 12 and under. Do you think I'll get in trouble if I order it?" I was so worn out that I only thought of the words as they spilled from my mouth, and I couldn't help cracking up. Dan laughed at me, too. And then I got my cruddy mini meal.

Just beneath my consciousness, there's this sensor that knows how very ridiculous these sort of fears are, and it usually keeps me from saying such things aloud. But I think I'm better off when I make my NCB apparent. The only thing worse than feeling guilty is feeling dumb about feeling guilty. At least when I verbalize the fear, I get a chuckle. And maybe, I actually get over the thing that's scaring me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Learning to Be Single Again

Ha! Fooled you. There's no such juicy drama. Dan and I are still going strong. But since he started renting a room in Detroit a little over a month ago, I have often been going it alone. Even though I know it's best for us in the long run (he gets his research and dissertation done sooner and then we get to bust out of these sinking peninsulas!), it's really tough for me in the present. At times, I've been miserable. I ask myself, how did I spend so many cumulative years as a single person? And after great reflection and remembrance, I've found the answer - booze and cigarettes. Well, I'm not eager to resurrect those habits, so I'm looking for other ways to cope.

This activity helps. I don't know if anyone reads this blog (other than the person who said that I "dress up" pedophilia), but it feels good to put my writing out there. My only other writerly outlets are work related, and consist of occasional propaganda newsletter articles for so-called "foodies" and my corny, pun-filled meeting minutes (for which I receive an absurd amount of praise). You know, Ben Franklin considered punning a vice, and in his autobiography, admonished himself for wasting time in such a meaningless pursuit. Then again, he worked way harder than I ever have, which is why I will probably never win fame or riches for my writing. But I don't need those motivations. For me, it's compulsive. If I don't write, and I don't give others the opportunity to read what I write, I don't feel so good as when I do.

When I'm not writing, I'm usually reading magazines. Dan got me a Harpers subscription for my birthday and I treated myself to a year of the New Yorker. Between those, I keep abreast of current events and get my regular reminder that the world is a sad and fucked up place for most humans. Seriously, I think that reading that sort of journalism is good for me. It pulls me away from my lonely woe, helps me appreciate that I really hit the jackpot when I was born a white American, and fertilizes my compassion. What could be wrong with that?

I'm learning to drive! I have my second lesson tomorrow. The woman from the driving school is really nice, and has a soothing way of talking a lot about nothing. I know she does this because she can see that I'm nervous. But I think I did pretty well my first time out. I drove myself all the way home from work! Now that's pretty powerful, cutting that one-hour commute down to a 15 minute jaunt.

Other than that, I guess I spend the rest of my solo time preparing meals, tending to the garden, hanging out with Matt and Bizzy, and practicing songs for karaoke. It's not such a bad life, but last week was really hard. It was terribly hot. I was still sick from the previous weekend, premenstrual, and alone. I indulged in some awfully self-pitying activity that included Better Made potato chips, French onion dip, PBR and some "Star Trek" DVDs. That isn't my best self.

Well, I have about 3 more weeks of this single life (with weekend husband visitations). I'm going to try to make the most of it. The temperature is lower, I have my health back, and my period behind me. I have plenty to read and hopefully even more to write.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

'Oke Dokey

Last night was the best karaoke adventure so far. I had low hopes at the start of the evening, when we saw the Tigers get slaughtered by the Astros, 8 – 1. I even thought, “I just want to do a song or two and go home”. Ha! I sang five solos, two duets and did a bit of backup for Danny, as well. It was the most fun I’ve had in quite some time. This comes after a couple of really un-fun weeks, which makes it all the better.

Again, the greatest thing about this place down the road is the crowd. The hipsters weren’t there, just a handful of really friendly people who love to sing. There’s the KJ, who I’ll call Ned. Ned looks like a young Jim Leyland, has a smoky voice, and a penchant for the same songwriter-y classic rock that I love (we did a duet of “Black Water”). “Rick” also loves that stuff, and did a pretty good version of “Do It Again”. Anyone gets that Steely Dan party started is cool with me.

There are a couple of really talented ladies. One is (I think) the wife or girlfriend of the pub owner. I’ll call her Karen. She has one of those honey voices that gently glides over all the notes. Karen usually does a lot of country, but she busted out some old timey jams, like that song that goes “Hold me, hold me, never let me go until you've told me, told me…” I envy her for being able to sing those pretty songs, but I also love just listening to her. Then there’s Shavonne, who is the best singer on any night. She specializes in R&B ballads, the kind that I attempt only in my fantasies. Of course, she did a Michael Jackson song (it was more or less expected of her), and she made an unusual but very lovely choice with “She’s out of My Life”. Danny and I made a special request that she sing “You Got it All” by The Jets, which she’s going to work on later. I figure if I can’t do my favorite songs well, I’ll just get my vicarious thrills by way of Shavonne.

Dan is definitely the best guy singer. It isn’t just his voice; he really goes for it. He’ll do a falsetto. Everyone loves when he gets on stage because you know that whatever he sings, he’ll go balls out. The highlight for me was “Two Faces Have I,” for which I sang back-up. That’s one of our special songs that we sing together at home. It’s one that most people don’t think about unless they hear it on the oldies radio station, but I think it's genius (definitely one of the most vocally complicated pop songs). When the title came up on the monitor, no one recognized it, but they knew it when Dan started singing. And the crowd was completely floored. Honestly, I felt so proud being on stage with him!

We also did “Tramp” together. I got a good laugh from the crowd when I said “straight from the Ypsi woods”. But the funniest moment of the evening happened when Dan was singing “Kiss”. By that point, a crowd of young, already-drunk people had come to the bar. A few dudes standing behind me were snickering and one of them scoffed, “Ha ha, he actually sounds like Prince,” which I think was code for, “Ha ha, what a fag”. Then, a trio of tipsy girls to my left all gasped and one of them whispered, in awe “Oh my god, he actually sounds like Prince”. Then the guys shut up and started cheering for Dan, along with everyone else.

My own rock star moments are never quite as grand. I’ve quickly learned the limits of my range. It leaves me with a lot of guy songs, and that’s fine. I may not have the prettiest voice, but I’m good at timing and I have a knack for picking crowd-pleasers. My recent discovery is that Paul Simon’s songs are perfect for me because I know them well, and he isn’t a very skilled vocalist (that’s why he kept Garfunkel around for so long). So, I started the night with “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and ended with “You Can Call Me Al”. But I think my personal best was “My Best Friend’s Girl”. I can totally do the Ric Ocasek voice, which is like crooning downward. Lots of fun, especially when Ned did the air guitar solo.

Obviously, I’m completely addicted. I have that fuzzy, glowing, next day feeling you get after you go to a really great party, but this is the kind of party you can find just about any day of the week! I always thought that dancing all night to really great music was the ultimate way to rock out, but this is the new plateau of rocking. And I get to pick the music.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Not To Be There

I didn’t find out that Michael Jackson died until I went to the gym this morning and saw the news splashed across the CNN monitor above my elliptical climber. I was still in a state of disbelief at a point in time when everyone else had seemed to formulate their thoughts and opinions on the situation. That’s given me an interesting perspective, so I’m writing about it here.

As I expected, some people had no remorse for a man who they viewed as nothing more than a pedophile. Fortunately, I didn’t talk to any of those people today (just read their comments online). All I can say about Michael Jackson’s bizarre and disturbing sexuality – his bizarre and disturbing anything, for that matter – is that we all know exactly where it came from. Fame has ruined many a soul, but how many people become superstars at age 11 and stay that famous until the end of their lives? Not to mention the very public disaster that is his family. Despite all his creepiness, I can’t see that it’s so difficult to have compassion for the man.

Then there are comments like this one, posted by a dude named "Rich" on the Allmusic Blog, in response to another commenter who referred to Michael Jackson as “an awesome musician”

"awesome musician?…well ive never seen michael with a musical instrument in his hand… however he was a talanted singer/artist….yes he will be missed buy his fans but quite frankly, who gives a toss…his career was over by the end of the last century…RIP…credit where credit is due i suppose"

Rich perfectly fits my definition of a hipster – a person who cares more about taste than passion or kindness. Again, I’m glad that I didn’t talk to this sort of person today, though I am sickly fascinated by all this flippant commentary. I admit that I actually reactivated my Facebook account just long enough to read comments from people on my friends list. I immediately re-deactivated my account, and remembered that such unconsidered blather is exactly why I can't stomach Facbook.

On the other hand, I was verklempt when I saw photos of all the vigils and shrines. It’s nice to know that there are places in the world, even a few corners of America, where people aren’t suffocating from irony. I’m reminded of this really nice Tunisian guy I worked with 12 years ago. We went to see “Titanic” together, and when he picked me up from my house, he was a little embarrassed by the copy of HIStory sitting on his dashboard. He said “Americans don’t like Michael Jackson, ‘cause… you know, little boys”. But, when MJ put on a show in Tunisia, it was the cultural event of this young man’s lifetime. He told me that it was, by far, the biggest public gathering that had ever happened in his country.

I’m amazed that an artist can be so widely enjoyed. How many people have ever loved “Billie Jean”? It’s a beautiful thing, really, that a song can resonate with so many millions of individuals. I like to think that if we had a time capsule for Earth, we could all agree that “Billie Jean” should be included in it.

But what a tragedy that Michael had to sacrifice his peace of mind and his sanity to share his gifts with so many of us. I don’t think someone can be that famous and not be completely fucked in the head. I’ve always been able to separate the personae from the music, even when I listen to the Jackson 5. How lucky for me. That child’s voice is one of my favorite sounds! But now that he has died, I can’t help but hear it in the context of that tragic and truncated life. I mean, I knew the guy had no chance of redemption. But ultimately, I find this mourning, this outpouring of love for his art, very depressing because it’s too late for him to relish it. And maybe it would have brought him a little more joy.