Thursday, October 28, 2010

I dearly wish I could tell you I made this up. Wrong.

Just in time for the midterm elections, I have some news to share. It’s official: the recession is over.

Exhibit A: the placenta teddy bear.

In an amazing display that combines equal parts narcissism and queasiness, new parents can now preserve the awe-inspiring, nourishing, life-giving force from a mother’s womb as a leathery, frightening-looking teddy bear, made entirely from a placenta. It looks kind of like a bear that would lead to night terrors, if you ask me.

I don’t know about you but I have just about had it with the egocentricity of people who have a child, and then proceed to act as if they are the first parents ever on the planet. You’ve been around them, I know you have. They give themselves away by using phrases like “teachable moment.” They read things like Cookie and Brain Child, The Magazine for Thinking Mothers. They worry endlessly about stuff like high-fructose corn syrup and other poison-laden Halloween candy. And now, apparently, they make teddy bears out of a placenta.

It’s exactly what you imagine it to be; in fact, it could be even worse. Let’s take a look at this, shall we?

After delivering your genius-to-be, you lovingly and ceremoniously cut that cord, then save and prepare your placenta for what’s to come. You stretch and “cure” the membranes for a while. [Stop reading right now if you’re anticipating step-by-step instructions with a time frame, a list of curing ingredients and other details from here on out. I was too incredulous to take notes on this.] Then you stuff it with something – God knows what – and sew it up with something else – no idea - and there it is. Arms and legs; a body and a face without eyes that, sure, looks kind of like a bear. The no-eye look is kind of creepy, and that’s saying a lot since this whole thing is a world of creepy to begin with.

But sure, it's a bear I guess. The kind a prehistoric toddler may have dragged around the cave while the Neanderthal moms had playgroup together and cured meat/skins in their cave kitchen area, meat and skins not unlike the cured materials used to create the teddy bear their child never puts away in the cave toy box. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here – or behind ourselves, maybe?

I couldn’t tell from the website whether or not 21st century children actually ever play with their placenta bear or not. I suspect not since it was displayed in a glass container. It didn’t look all that sturdy to tell you the truth. Instead, it appeared to be kind of decorative, if by decorative, you mean ‘Silence-of-the-Lambs-basement’ decorative.

I blame the mother, here. I really do. Isn’t it enough that she experienced a healthy pregnancy and delivered a child? I would imagine the existence of the child is proof enough of the miracles her nourishing womb is capable of producing. But no, that’s not enough. She needs her placenta on display, albeit shaped and stuffed, to prove to the world that she and her body nursed a child to life.

I ask you: why else would someone do this? It’s the worst kind of “look at me,look at me, look at me, please” behavior because it’s not even honest. They disguise it as something ostensibly for their child. And the worst part? If this is what they do after just a few weeks or months of motherhood, what will they do after years? Oy. This is just the beginning.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I'm a true Capricorn. (A statement that would mean so much more if I believed in astrology.)

Possibly surprising facts that may not be entirely obvious nor entirely congruent about me. I don’t promise this will be cohesive or satisfying. You’ve been warned.

Am I getting more impatient or are people getting dumber?
I hate when people make you stop giving out a phone number because they have to interrupt you to repeat the number after you. You know what I mean. You start with 101 (the area code, since we all now have nineteen phones with 14 different areas codes), and then they jump right in and say, “101”, then you say “202,” (“202” they exclaim, with great concentration), then you try to finish with 33 (“okay, 33”), and you finally conclude this complex algorithm with 44. (“44. So: 101-pause-202-pause-33-pause-44.”) Hate it. It makes me clench my teeth. How is it possible that you can hold no more than three numbers in your head at one time? How?

I’ve found that I can fool people into skipping this moronic routine by giving out phone number like this: 101 (pause) 202 (pause) 3 (pause) 344. That way, I have to endure only two pauses, because very few people will actually take a moment to repeat just one number back to you.

I prefer to think of it as dedication.
I play ENTIRELY too much solitaire online.

I used to play in the early evening, during the years I wrote the weekly newspaper column. As I did this very, very mindless exercise, I would compose the column in my head. I would organize it, think about the pace of it, the structure, the phrases I wanted to use, the parallels, the analogies and how it should begin and end.

All of this was quite unconscious to a large extent – not all of it – but much of it was. It was kind of in the back of my mind, simmering and fermenting and coming to a rolling boil, all while I did something else in the front of my mind. And then when I was ready to let it out, it went from the back of my mind to the keyboard, usually in one continuous session, almost as if I were taking dictation from my head.

It wasn’t done by any means. But it was there. And I could read it and fix it and cut entire paragraphs out of it before I turned it in, usually the first one. I would rarely love the column when it appeared, but it usually didn't make me insane to read it. Once in a while it did, though. When that happened, I would call them "the columns that got away."

But these days, I find myself playing solitaire and composing very little in my head. I seem to be in some kind of “this writing is crap,” “this reads like garbage,” and “this is so uninspiring it’s awesome” mode, which may well be all too true.

Music transcends life.
I LOVE gospel music. I must have been a Baptist in another life, who sung in the choir every week. It’s just so heartfelt and so passionate. It’s so full of hope and honest emotion. The singers seem to put it all out there, which is something I doubt I’ve ever felt comfortable enough to do even once in my life. And there’s a small part of me that regrets it.

You say obsessive; I say scarily, enthusiastically focused.

I can be just a little, just a smidge, just a tad…obsessive. I tend to immerse myself in something that fascinates me at any given moment. When I love a movie, I LOVE it. Same with a TV show. I have been known to watch hours (literally) of Law & Order or In Treatment or Lost.

If I read a non-fiction book I like, I’ll read everything I can about that topic for a while. I’ll discuss it like crazy with people I more or less force to read it just so we can talk about it. Or if I like a novel, I’ll re-read it a bunch of times – I’ll leave it at that (“a bunch”) – and try to find something new that fascinates me. I usually do, too. Somewhere along the line, my re-reads become explorations, mostly about the language or the choices the writer made. I wonder why and I wish I could have him or her over to dinner to chat about it. Until dawn, maybe.

I'm outing myself. Give me credit for that, at least.
I really don’t “get” NPR. I tried for a long time. I really did. But when I stopped listening, it was because I finally realized this: the best way to make a bleak day even bleaker was to listen to NPR. And the last thing I need is to find a way to add more bleakness into my life.

Maybe that makes me a moron. Or at least not nearly as smart as everyone who simply adores NPR. There’s that whole “I’m smarter than you are” aspect of NPR that makes me insane. (This feeling is connected by a dotted line to the contrary streak I have that makes me want o dislike things that almost everyone likes.)


Hmmmm. Does any of this resonate with anyone? Am I simply too mean to live sometimes? I’ll try to think of some more pleasant aspects of my personality to share. That should be interesting.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

In praise of HBO's 'Darkness,' Bruce and being perennially 19.

“So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore. Show a little faith!

There’s magic in the night. You ain’t a beauty but hey, you’re all right. And that’s all right with me.”

I can tell you exactly where those words take me. I’m 19 again. It’s August 18, 1978…just after 2 a.m. outside the recently departed Spectrum. There we stood, first with a crowd of 100 people or so. And as the hour got later, and then later, we dwindled down to a group of maybe 15 or 16. People who were, for that moment in time, our closest friends. Springsteen fans all, gathered by that inconspicuous little door, daring to imagine how the evening might end before we all headed out to our deserted cars in the parking lot.

It was different times, back in ’78. We were different. It was long before we had jobs, husbands, houses or kids. Before our 401(k)s and Visa cards and life insurance. Before the stretch marks and tiny, fine lines; before we patronized colorists and invested in Spanx. Everything about us was 19. We were all about the warm August night and the cold beer in our hands. All about dancing and singing and clutching each other as we paid homage with 20,000 other faithful. That night, we were all about Bruce and the band and the music and the moments he spoke to us from his soul, from the stage.

Janice, Cathy, Leslie and I – all 19 – wondering just what in the world we thought we were doing there. Not quite understanding why we hadn’t simply hit the road and headed for the shore after the concert, which had been the plan from the start. But we’d already invested $8.50 a ticket in this show, plus parking; and already waited this long. Maybe he’d come out and say hello.

I’ll see this forever in my mind. A small window in the door. One of the girls pressing her face against it for what seems like one solid hour. She backs up – and with a small shriek, throws her arms around his neck. And then, just like that, there he was. White T-shirt, jeans, walking toward what had become our intimate little group, asking us what we thought of the show. Bruce. The man we’d all zeroed in on through our binoculars not three hours earlier that night, now, literally, within arm’s reach.

Another clip from my mind: one of the guys had skipped out on his wife to go to the concert with his buddy – the night of his first wedding anniversary for God’s sake. He confessed it all to Bruce who took the beer bottle from the guy’s hand, then wrote a note to her on the label, something like: “Forgive him – he seems like a good guy – Bruce.”

We all came up with scraps of paper and ticket stubs and anything else we had to get an autograph and wouldn’t you know – Bruce had nothing to lean on to sign our scraps. I immediately stepped up – with my binoculars’ case the size of Delaware (’78, remember?) – and held it steady so he could write out his notes to all of us.

Then we all gave him a hug and a kiss – maybe even the guys did that, too – and snapped pictures to prove it. He drove off in a canary yellow Camaro with a smug-looking blonde in the front seat who looked completely bored by the whole thing.

We screamed from Broad Street to Seaside Heights.

Fast–forward several decades. Now wearing our Springsteen T-shirts with the 1978 photos silk-screened across them, we’ve gone on many extended tours with Bruce and the band. At Madison Square Garden in 2000, Janice, Leslie and I staged our own reunion. Fans read the date on our shirts and asked, “Is that you? I was five years old in 1978.”

Les and I have attended many other shows over the years with our husbands, who have no interest at all in hanging out by the loading dock afterwards. Something about Turnpikes or Expressways and backups at the exits…

But you know what? Even as we tramp out to the minivan and try to beat the traffic, we’re all 19 again. But we’re more than that, too. We all hear that screen door slam in our minds. We’re all old enough to understand that should one of us fall behind, the other will wait. We know that lots of times in life, it does feel like you take one step up and two steps back. We’ve learned to live with what we can’t rise above. We’re ready to grow young again.

And that’s all right with us.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

My Tank and Me: One Woman's Search for Peace

Oh my God.

I swear to you this kind of kismet-y stuff seems to happen to me all the time. ALL THE TIME.

So I open USA Today – which I do on a semi-annual basis – and what’s the lead story in the "Life" section on Monday? A story about a new book, from Gotham Chopra and Krishu Chopra, with Deepak Chopra. This amazing new book is titled Walking Wisdom: Three Generations, Two Dogs and the Search for a Happy Life.

Anyone who has even visited this blog even once has probably heard me say this before but I can’t help myself: Oh my dear God in heaven, help me please. I can’t stand this.

Yes, yes, yes. I know. I need to chill. I need to direct this outward. I am doing that. This is my outlet, okay? I might implode otherwise.

I ask you: was the world looking for a guide to stress-free living, the kind that results from walking a dog? You’re kidding me, right?

But let’s assume we were. Everyone was looking for the perfect book about stress-reducing via canine exercise. We all were desperate for guidance on how to walk our dogs, ruminate about life and love and lollipops (or whatever the three Chopra men chat about during their walks in Central Park) and figure out how to release our anxiety, let it travel down the leash in a manner of speaking and away from our inner cores. Assuming everyone was searching for it, is there any reason we had to find it in a book from Gotham Chopra? And, even better, from his three-year-old son, Krishu?

We’ve had books emerge from Mrs. Dr. Phil, from Jay McGraw, Dr. Phil’s author-son, and from Sean Covey (of the Seven Habits Covey’s), among others. Question: Do they have any credentials, other than their personal relationships? Irrelevant, and already addressed by every marketing exec in publishing. They have what passes for credentials these days: the ability to capitalize on an enormous and fawning fan base and sell them even more crap that they don’t need.

Let’s get back to the dog-walking lessons, or stress-free lessons or whatever the Chopra’s have to sell, errr, share with us, shall we? This is my favorite quote in the USA Today article, and the kismet-y part of this story: "My father is all over this book in his own words, so we thought the 'with' was the best way to recognize that," explains Gotham, 35. Having the Deepak Chopra name on a book cover isn't a bad thing, either. He has sold more than 20 million books over the years.

[NOTE: “Having the Deepak Chopra name on a book cover isn't a bad thing, either.” When I was much younger, we used to think about this confluence of favorable circumstances, where one naturally followed the other, a little differently. I think we used to recognize it with a poetic phrase that went something like, “No s--t, Sherlock. “]

Honestly, I found many, many more moments of pure gold in this article. I can only recommend you read it for yourself and enjoy. But here are a few I couldn’t resist noting here:

"She grounds us. We're going in so many different directions. Cleo teaches us to live in the present. She doesn't take herself too seriously." What humans need to do, adds Deepak, is to "tap into that."

"Infinite flexibility is the secret of immortality, and dogs have that ability to adapt," says Deepak, who once again lapses into workshop-speak. Speaking of workshops, he has worked the power of dogs into his seminars, meeting with celebrity dog trainer Cesar Millan to talk about leadership.

Apparently, people buy this stuff, literally and figuratively. Remarkable. Maybe I need to turn this around and just be more positive. Maybe I can do this and share the love. Why not? Why not me?

Before we go there, let me make this clear. We all need some form of peace; I get that. And if that means you take a moment each day with the Bible, or you spend time contemplating the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path; or you do TM or run a 5K; or you create a mandala or play a mandolin - God Bless. Namaste. You get no argument from me.

But this kind of specious, vacuous, insipid, cloying attempt to "sell" peace to the masses is repugnant to me. Especially when it trades on the name of someone who has millions of "followers" who are inclined to continue feeding their self-help habits. No matter what form the new "lesson" takes.

So - onto my idea: I’m going to set up a gorgeous, colorful, soothing and restorative tropical fish tank in my home. About two weeks after that, I’m going to submit an outline for the following book proposal to my agent and see where we land: Swimming Smart: Three Generations, Nineteen Fish, and the Search for a Splash-Free Life. (I'll ask my six-year-old great-niece to be my co-author and give my mother a "with" credit.)

The chapters shape up something like this:

The Palette of the Sea: how the many colors, shapes and sizes of fish happily swim side by side, and through their serenity and their (how did the Chopra's put it? Of yeah..) "living in the present," teach us the secrets of living in peace together. (Note to self: do NOT include the fighting fish in this chapter.)

Less is Enough: how fish can teach us the top five tips about healthy nutrition and the dangers of emotional eating. (Tip 1: Eat when you're fed!)

Silent Waters: why talking is highly overrated.

Castles Aren't Roadblocks; They're Beautiful Ways to Teach Us a New Path: swimming through, around or above obstacles with ease.

Moving Is Life: ‘cause if you stop, you’re floating; and if you’re floating, you’re dead.

What do you think?

So scootch over, Gotham. I'm going to be sitting on that couch on Oprah right next to you and Krishu. Just me and my tank. And my 'wisdom.'

Saturday, October 02, 2010

"The way people speak and write nowadays makes my head hurt." Act 1, Cyrano deBergerac

I have no idea how to get an “official” day declared but I’d like to figure it out and suggest one. It will be called: “In Honor of ‘With’” Day. With? With whom you would rightly ask? In this case, the day will be set aside to thank and celebrate the talents and collaboration of the “With” who sits solidly, quietly and barely noticed beneath the “By” name on book covers these days.

Like most blog posts and columns I write, several stars (AKA stories and headlines) collided and I started to think about the underappreciated, workhorse writers whose words make certain books come to life. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not sure many of these books should ever come in contact with a printing press or see the light of a Kindle, but I don’t make that decision. What’s done is done, and in cases like this, done in large part due to the skilled writers who tell the story of the celebrity “author” on the cover.

First, the good news. According to the New York Post, no publishers appear to be interested in publishing the memoirs of Nadya Suleman, the Octomom. She’s been shopping a book around but so far, no takers. I’m positive that’s not due to a wave of rational thinking crashing onto the shores of Manhattan; more like overexposure for a woman who doesn’t have a story that hasn’t already been told on the pages of People or Us magazines. Nonetheless, I guarantee you Suleman’s book would have carried a “with” credit.

Now the bad news: Nicole Polizzi is publishing her first book. A novel, for God’s sake. From the mind of Snookie. It’s due in January and titled something like “A Shore Thing.” Some kind of ‘falling in love at the shore’ epic, no doubt. The book’s online listing doesn’t list her “With,” and I can certainly understand that. The “With” in this case will probably use a pen name to ensure that he or she will continue to work in the publishing industry. And I don’t blame the writer for one second. Getting paid to write anything these days is something of a miracle. So go with God, “With,” whoever you are.

Although it occurs to me that there could be a reason to buy “A Shore Thing.” You know those books and websites that suggest surprising uses for everyday objects? I could buy this book, cut out the middle of all the pages (leaving the perimeter of each intact) and use it to hide my good jewelry in plain sight. Well, if I owned enough good jewelry to warrant that, I would. Let’s face it: once this book is on a shelf, no one would ever pull off again, right? That thing would sit there for years, untouched, and my jewelry would remain safe.

Snookie’s as yet unnamed collaborator notwithstanding - who may turn out to be quite a story-teller, who knows - the list of “With” ’s is long and distinguished. They’ve assisted all kinds of authors telling all kinds of stories: from Lee Iaccoca to Howard Stern; from Patti LuPone to Laura Bush. They listen. They take notes and tape hours of interviews. The best of them smooth out the details and evoke a “voice” we’ll all recognize on the page, while suppressing their own. They watch “their” book climb the bestseller list, and congratulate the author.

Sure, they’ll cash a check for their work. But I’d like to see them take a bow of their own. So who’s with me? I’m proposing April 1, birth date of Edmond Rostand, the French dramatist who wrote the play, Cyrano de Bergerac. If anyone knows the story of supplying someone else with words and taking no credit, Rostand’s character does.

So there it is: Let’s set aside April 1, as our official “In Honor of ‘With’” Day, celebrated the world over by everyone who loves a good read.