Monday, September 21, 2009

RIght to Bare Arms

I was just reading my favorite political threads in my never-ending attempt to better my mind and make myself a scintillating cocktail party guest-- not that I go to any cocktail parties but I will be conversationally prepared if you want to invite me-- and this is what I learned.

Michelle Obama's dress at the Medal of Honor ceremony last week was not only an insulting slap in the face to the recipient's family and a disgrace to the country, but it violated the Post Labor Day fashion rules.

This last is what caught my attention, because just last week I went to lunch with my mominlaw and she noted, very sweetly, that I had on white sandals after Labor Day.

I tried to feel embarrassed and guilty, but failed. I like those sandals; they are really comfortable. But obviously, I had committed a grievous error that at some time must have offended someone for some reason, who then protected herself from further insult by formalizing the NO WHITE AFTER LABOR DAY! rule.

Now I am not some eitquette-ignorant sloth; I was weaned and raised on Amy Vanderbilt. Her book on manners was probably the most referenced and used book in our home. The Bible may provide the rules for living a moral life, but Amy taught us how to avoid the sins of wrong utensil usage and the disgrace of an improper introduction. Thank you notes had to have more than one sentence (you must mention the item specifically and comment about wonderful it is, how you never realized your life was so empty until you received it). Formal acceptances were written in third person- as if your social secretary were acting on your behalf, you being too busy instructing the maids how to set the table. You wore gloves and hats to tea, and dresses and heels in the kitchen.

Those days are thankfully gone. But just as written thank you notes and shower invitations are being replaced with Email and E invites, there must have been a time that some first lady didn't wear a hat and gloves to a White House function. I wonder if people were as horrified then as they seem to be with Michelle's ongoing fashion choices (which are either boldly avant garde or offensive faux pas depending on your political allegiance).

And why on earth do we care if Michelle looked as if she were wearing- as one witty fashion critic suggested-- Scarlett O'Hara's curtains? Or that she was showing those famously toned arms after Labor Day? Wasn't she there honoring the soldier's life and family, where she was supposed to be, doing the right thing?

Since someone conveniently brought up Gone With the Wind (oh, that was I!), one of my favorite moments in the movie is when Scarlett, with prissy, self-righteous indignation, berates Melanie for taking Belle Watkins' money because Belle is a prostitute. Melanie graciously accepts the offering, because she realizes that despite Belle's dubious occupation and heavy makeup, the gesture was sincere and generous.

Although maybe Belle was wearing white after Labor Day, and, really, if so, Melanie should have known better.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Perchance to Dream

Last night I had the strangest dream.
Wait, isn't there an old song that starts like that?
Oh yes, it was about putting an end to war..
Well, ok, my dream lacks that social conscience quality. or if it has it, I don't see it.

I was about to play a duet with another pianist in a huge outdoor concert, only the piano was backstage and the orchestra was out front so I couldn't see the conductor. The sun was going down, and there was no light, and then someone told us that the composer himself was in the audience. Panicked, I opened the score and realized I had never seen it before.

Not only that, but there were no musical notes on the page. It was made up of objects and pictures arranged in groupings. I turned to the other pianist and hissed, "Have you practiced!"

He said of course he had, and I said, well what IS this!

Rolling his eyes, he pointed to a page that had recliners grouped in lines on the page.

"Play this in the style of Gregorian chant," he explained.

Now the weird thing is that, in the dream, that made sense to me. The orchestra started to play, and I started to accompany them reading the recliners as notes. Only the other guy started elbowing me off the bench. I ended up playing everything in the lowest octave.

During the intermission, the composer came back and said to me, "No wonder you were having problems. This was written for two pianos, not one."

"Well, I have to take my cat home anyway," I said. "Bring another piano in and I'll try again when I get back."

The reason I had to take my cat home was because there were very large jackrabbits running around the piano and I was afraid they would eat him.

Well, as you can see, this dream is ripe for interpretation. But what could it be?
It began with the basic element of the actor's dream of not knowing your lines, but wandered far afield. Why the recliners? And why jackrabbits?

SOmeone in my book discussion group last night said he thought sleeping was boring and a terrible waste of time. I so totally disagree. My dream life is much more interesting than my real life. In my real life, all my music has notes on the pages and I have no cat.

Of course, they are similar in that I often don't understand my real life either.

Perhaps tonight I'll return from the intermission and finish the concert.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tea and No Sympathy

My mother-in-law is a wonderful woman, but I know when I am being used. Under the guise of simplifying her life, she is trying to give me her silver.

But I am on to her, because I am impatiently waiting for my sons to get married so I can give their unsuspecting wives MY silver.

I can't just take it to Goodwill-- which probably doesn't want it anyway-- because my own mother gave her silver to me. At the time it seemed such a generous, loving maternal gesture, but I now know the truth. She was just sick of polishing it. Still, it retains some sentimental connection for me, or maybe I just fear that if I let it leave the family, she will appear to me in dreams and make me feel guilty. She does that sometimes.

An ornate tea service sits in our unused dining room, turning black. There are a dozen black trays in the china cabinet. I have black salt and pepper shakers, black serving utensils, black pitchers. I could set a depressingly suitable wedding table for Miss Havisham, which is a thought. Maybe I could rent it out to filmmakers of horror films.

Do young brides even choose silver these days? We are going to a wedding next week and the couple has registered at REI for sporting equipment. Not a piece of silver anywhere.

Of course, they don't need to worry about it, because their mothers are going to be giving them all theirs anyway.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Bleak Sterility of llusions

I was thinking about illusions, but as usual, as soon as I started to consider Camus's bleak sterility of life without them, I grew depressed and craved chocolate.
And since one of my most cherished illusions at the moment is that the loss of twelve pounds has me looking rather sensuously anorexic, I have decided instead to write about role models.

When I was ten, I discovered those little orange biographies in our smalltown library. The series was called The Childhoods of Famous Americans, and I devoured them: Jane Addams, Jenny Lind, Sacagawea, Amelia Earhart, Betsy Ross, Louisa May Alcott, Florence Nightingale-- women who pushed boundaries, who struggled and achieved against tough odds. In the circumscribed world of the 50s, these books allowed young girls to dream that they too might be able to do more than get married or teach.

Today, I was asked to shelve a set of new juvenile biographies at the library. Expecting to see the next wave of inspirational stories to ignite the imaginations and ambitions of the next generation-- maybe the childhoods of Sandra Day O'Conner, Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, or maybe some less known women in other fields, like doctors, teachers, writers, business women--I eagerly examined the new arrivals.

And this is what I found:

Lindsay Lowan
Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen
Jessica Simpson
Britney Speares

Isn't Britney the one who can't remember to put on her underwear before she goes out?
Isn't Mary Kate anorexic?
And we want our daughters to emulate these women why exactly?

Looking further, we find under the category of Wannabe Pocahontases Who Believe That One Name Suffices:

Eve (who?)
Ciara (who?)
Nelly (who?)
Selena (who?)
Beyonce (yes! Have heard of her!)

Ands even more mystifying are the nonnames:

Soulja Boy Tell 'Em
Queen Latifa
Ice Cube
Ja Rule
And my favorite- Bow Wow

OKok, to be fair, there was a Condoleeza Rice, and a Nancy Pelosi, and a JK Rowling, who at least have lived long enough to outgrow acne and get driver's licenses. But what admirable behaviors have been pushed by these young people, if you aren't charmed by eating disorders, alcoholism and serial marriages?
So I read a blurb on one:

"Here is the life story of a young man who proves that by pushing your boundaries, you really can go far."

Ah, you are thinking, finally -- someone like Stephen Hawking, Clarence Thomas, maybe Saul Ramirez, the young soldier who lost both legs in Iraq and is struggling to walk again on titanium posts so he can rejoin his unit...

But no it's 22 year old Zac Efron, who "encouraged by his parents.. began doing community theater and eventually got an agent in Los Angeles. Twice a week, Zac and his mother made the hours-long drive from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles for auditions. TV guest spots and a role on the series Summerland followed, but his life would forever change when he was cast in Disney’s High School Musical."

Now I have driven in LA and it's no picnic, but I really didn't think I was pushing boundaries in any admirable way. And heck, Zac's mother drove him. But somehow, I guess this is supposed to inspire in the same way DAvy Crockett inspired my little brother to don a coonskin cap and pretend he was exploring the backyard wilderness with his BB gun.

Illusion is the erroneous perception of reality. Whether the little orange books presented an illusion or a reality, I am not sure, but whichever it was, most of the stories were about young people who had dreams and goals much bigger than themselves.
As I look at the above list I am struck by the limited nature of it, and how sad is that.

SO sad indeed that I am stopping and going in search of chocolate..

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


OOops- in my excitement, I hit 'post' after coming up with the title word.

Maybe I should write no more, leaving just that mysterious and haunting cry to echo through the blog ether, like the letters CRO carved into a tree on Roanoke Island, where an entire English colony was discovered to have disappeared in 1590 (note blatant display of historical erudition). 1

Sadly, the explanation is a bit more prosaic. This morning, someone brought up an observation that some sports announcers were now saying RBI instead RBIs and he wondered why because he had always heard RBIs, even though he understood that the plural was found within the phrase (runs batted in, not runs batted ins).

Another person chimed in that his team had had very few this year, and so he hadn't noticed.

An English teacher said she never listened to sports, but she brought up from her field of expertise the term PDA (public displays of affection) that offered the same dilemma.

I mentioned that these letters fell in the category of acronyms that become words in and of themselves like SCUBA or LASER, and thus, the S would be appropriate.

SOmeone then said, no, those words were actually designed to be words and if RBI were a real word, people would say Ruhbi or PDA would be Puhdah, but that are still spoken as initials as so were not words, to which I aggressively responded that I doubted the laser/scuba people were that grammatically farsighted, and were just lucky that THEIR acronyms had vowels in the middle where poor RBI had none and had a much tougher battle to fight for noundom.

(I can't resist defending the underdog)

Had baseball statisticians been thinking grammtically ahead, they would have used the U in Runs-- and had RUBIs. Or Runs Efficiently Batted In-- REBIs.

Or better still, Runs Effectively Batted In WIth Applause

Which has a great sort of native American warcry sound to it, suitable to the warriorlike and violent sport of baseball.

In fact, now I wonder if CRO might have actually been an acronym? It would make sense given the deteriorating situation between the native population and the colony.

Can't Relate to Others

Chief Refuses to Obey

Colony Relocating Overland

Well, it's all very intriguing but the day calls, and I greet it eagerly with the bellicose victory cry of


1. I don't really have a footnote; I just wanted to lend academic credibility to my post, but I did read a great book, Big Chief Elizabeth: The Adventures and Fate of the First English Colonists in America by Giles Milton. While his research is excellent, I am sad to report that he missed the obvious possibility of CRO as an acronym.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Nothing and thus something?

A new approach.
I am going to start writing with the intention of saying nothing, thus lowering expectations to zero and relieving myself of any responsibility to produce something. In fact, I may have to delete this if it accidentally becomes something, which would mean I had failed yet again.
Of course, 'something' has to be defined before that decision can be made.

Something: a certain undetermined or unspecified thing

Now wait. Does that make sense to you?

How can I know if this blog has morphed from nothing to something, if 'something' is undetermined or unspecified? By that definition, it is already something, and must be deleted.
Hang on, there's a second definition.

a person or thing of some value or consequence: He is really something! This writer has something to say and she says it well.

Well, exactly. But that is the question, not the answer. Who says she wrote something of value? I may think this is becoming something and you may think it is absolutely nothing. You may already know the meaning of something, and have no need of this pithy and profound examination of the word.

Luckily, I am the only one reading this, and I have decided it is unequivocally 'nothing', and thus may be posted. If at some future date, someone protests that it is indeed something, even if of dubious value, I will reconsider-- unless I determine that they are no one.

Fly Me To the Moon

I’m starting to feel sorry for Nancy Pelosi and the CIA. I mean, can you remember where you were on September 12, 2002? I can’t remember what I did this morning-- and it’s only lunchtime.

I recently experienced the disconcerting phenomenon of questionable memories firsthand. A friend asked me to write a column for our new high school alumni site.

“I’d love to!” I said. “I remember those years perfectly-- being head cheerleader, president of the student body, editor of the school newspaper! I loved it when the algebra teacher got stumped by an equation and asked me for help. And remember when I won the Pulitzer for my article on bias in the 9th grade? What would you like me to write about first?”

My friend responded, somewhat nervously, that he didn’t remember a Pulitzer, and as for algebra, well, he had been in my class and knew I almost failed, and wasn’t Sally the editor of the newspaper anyway?

Really? That’s not how I remember it.

We are the stars of our own lives, and it’s always a shock to find out that seldom do others care about our plotline. They are too busy acting out their own dramas, like the girl in that cell phone ad. “This is a movie about MY life! Made by ME! Full of Adventure! Intrigue! Romance! ”

As Aldous Huxley said, “Every man's memory is his private literature.” Who can blame any of us if we take a little literary license here and there, rewrite an unhappy ending, embellish a boring story, even add entire chapters? So when my friend pointed out that, no, I had not won the state science fair by discovering a cure for cancer my junior year, I began to understand the pressure poor Nancy must be feeling. Why was someone questioning MY LIFE BY ME?

My children accuse me of embellishing all the time. Where I remember rising at dawn to have hot, nourishing breakfasts waiting for them every morning after swim practice, they remember a box of cold, stale cereal. In fact, to hear them tell it, they raised themselves, without benefit of maternal involvement.
“Did you even live here then?” says my older son.
“Don’t you remember?” says his brother. “We used to see her fingerprints in the dust on the furniture.”
Very funny.
Not that I can blame them. Memory not only embellishes, it can mysteriously erase entire days from our lives - so why not delete your own mother?

A while back (who remembers when?) my husband and I attended a show at the Kennedy Center in DC with some old friends. Someone asked if we had been there before.

“We saw "Westside Story" here twenty five years ago,” said my husband.

What? What was he talking about? I had never seen "Westside Story" on stage in my life. I said as much. My husband said of course I had, and then meanly threw in a gratuitous memory of a nice dinner at my favorite restaurant before the show. I accused him of seeing another woman. He muttered something about senility. Before it could get nastier, another couple said they remembered us driving up from school to see the show. I pretended I suddenly recalled the trip, because I could tell they were starting to give some consideration to the senility comment, but the truth is, I don’t. Not a thing. Not a note. Not a line. Obviously I forgot to put film in my mental camera for that one.

Of course, now my husband is reminding me of all the wonderful vacations we have taken over the years- Las Vegas, Europe, China, the moon. “It’s such a shame you can‘t remember,” he says, shaking his head sadly. “We had such a good time, too.”

As Nancy and the CIA are finding out, there is a point when some hard documentation is needed to distinguish the small happy embellishments from the complete script rewrites. Of course, it's more important for them to verify the truth of their claims than it is for me to prove the accuracy of my SAT scores (which I could have sworn were 1600, but which my brother says were--well--lower). After all, I’m not responsible for the moral decline of an entire nation. I think I should be, given my high school qualifications, but my friend swears I wasn’t president of the student body, either.

I’ve asked my husband for hard proof of all those vacations. I want dates, receipts, ticket stubs, witnesses.
I'm especially interested in that moon trip.