taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Thursday, March 31, 2005


In high school, my BFF and I communicated constantly--by notes passed in class, long letters written from family vacations, on the telephone. We often wonder now what we might have done back then if we'd had email and IM, texting and cell phones. Our ability to connect with each other, all the time, talking usually about not much at all, would have increased exponentially. We'd have been able to send each other amusing photos during classes, even if we weren't in the same room. We'd have been able to talk all night on IM without our mothers screaming "GET OFF THE G*D PHONE, what on earth could y'all have to talk about, you saw each other all day!"

But we would have lost something, too: the artifiacts of all that communication. In my basement I have scores of notes and letters we wrote to each other, complete with drawings and marginalia; the epistolary memoir of our friendship. Every once in a while I go back through these notes and suddenly remember, with a sensory jolt, the very specific experience of those four years. I can almost smell the formaldehyde in the biology lab, the gym locker room. I can remember teachers' and classmates' faces as if they were right next to me, frozen in time.

Would it be the same if all this had been digital? Would we even have the data any more? Would it be lost forever to forgotten file formats, crashed hard drives? And if it did still exist, would those binary communications carry anywhere near the power of the artifacts we created during those years?

Since the advent of email, I've received maybe a handful of letters. Mostly, though, postal mail is reserved for wedding invitations, bills, circulars, greeting cards, and new-baby announcements.




No more envelopes promising entertainment and news from afar, sometimes even decorated and stuffed with drawings and photos and scrawled words. No more waiting in between, waiting for a response to your letter, the anticipation half the fun of the correspondance.

This isn't to say that I haven't had amusing and important email exchanges over the years. Far from it; I have entire relationships that wouldn't be possible without email and IM. Some of my greatest long-distance friendships over the years have survived and flourished precisely because of the technology. But it comes at a price: the loss of the physical object.

It's not at all clear, even to people smarter than I, how human beings really interact with objects in the physical world. To some, it's not even clear that there is a physical world. But in the realm of perception, at least, digital and analog are qualitatively different. This isn't some luddite's view of technology as the prime corruptive force in the universe, or the musings of a woman going less-than-gracefully into middle age--mostly. I'm mourning the passing of something that was once--and still is--very important to me. And I think our children will be poorer for not knowing the way it feels to conduct correspondance on paper, to cart boxes of letters and photos from house to house. We are somehow anchored by our objects, and they help us identify who we are.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Check out my latest project: a completely fictional history of Baltimore.

Monday, March 28, 2005

I've just hit the wall of exhaustion.

I am tired in a way that sleep can't cure. I am deeply, bone-tired, completely spent, perhaps even hallucinating and not realizing it. I'm swilling pot after pot of coffee and getting the shakes but little else. I'm cold to the bone, shivery, and my neck hurts.

And still life goes on. There's things to be done and people to be seen and meals to be prepared and children to entertain and jobs that await me at work.

Over the past year since the Bee's birth, I've probably gotten a proper night's sleep.... um, never. Not once. I fall into bed at eleven or midnight. I'm woken throughout the night by my husband, who is a restless and loud sleeper, or by the baby, who is, well, a baby. I wake at four or five and can't get back to sleep. I know I'm tired, in the way that I know the earth is round, but I can't actually experience the tiredness enough to fall back asleep. I nap, and though I'm sleeping, it never feels like I've actually fallen asleep--in my nap dreams I'm running around taking care of a milliion little details, and I wake up in a sweat.

The funny thing is, I didn't until this moment realize how deeply tired I am.

I said to my husband yesterday, "Wouldn't it be nice to go on vacation and..." And I stopped. Because I couldn't think of anyplace I would want to go or anything I want to do. And then he filled in the rest. "And just sleep..." he said dreamily. "Just sleep for two days. Can you imagine?" We sighed wistfully. Such a thing seems impossible, a fantasy of such epic proportions that it could never ever come true.

I know from experience that this is the hallmark of the baby's first year. You go without sleep for months and months. You never once wake up on your own--you are always awakened, forcefully. You don't even realize it's happening. And sometime around the end of the first year you look back and say "Whoah! What just happened? What have I been doing?" And realize you can't even remember half of it because for a whole year, you've been dragging yourself around with your eyes at half-mast, red-rimmed, barely able to form a coherent thought. And then it hits you, the wall of exhaustion, and you realize you cannot survive another minute unless you get some fucking sleep.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

They need to put a warning on Peeps. "CAUTION: May cause violent mood swings. Do not feed to individuals under 15 years of age. Pure sugar causes temper tantrums and crying at bedtime."

Yes, the Easter basket was grazed upon all day. Even the baby figured it out: "These things are marshmallow! Whoopee!" She spent the entire day pacing frantically around the living room looking for more Peeps, and in fact became quite a good Peeps-thief, stealing the ears off our bunnies when our backs were turned. The older one silently chewed on candy until Meltdown Time at 8pm, when we found her huddled on the landing wearing silk pajamas and a poncho, weeping uncontrollably. "It's bedtime," I said to her, which was met by a steely glare. "You're making me VERY ANGRY, Mumma!" she yelled between sobs.

But the sugar high was good while it lasted. Church was a breeze. While Nick and I leaked tears throughout the very moving service, repenting madly, the children hunted eggs in the nursery. Afterwards, Amanda said she wanted to go to church every Sunday, which I think is probably a good idea, since the child needs a little more of the Fear of God in her.

Later, we went to my mother's for a spiral ham, which she'd bought from Graul's. But the scallopped potatoes were homemade. My sister and her boyfriend drove in from Philly, where they'd stayed the weekend and done touristy things and stayed in a "green" hotel, which I think means the sheets are all cotton or something. The nieces were less sullen than usual. And the rain fell outside the windows in the darkness, while we drank coffee and wine in the brightly lit kitchen.

Last Easter, I'd just come home from the hospital after having The Bee. I was high on Percocet and decided it would be a good idea to have the whole family over. I served food out of gift baskets, including fancy cheese and the Natty Boh that my friends had sent me in the hospital, and Queen Bee--who'd had a rocky birth and a heart murmmur--ended up having to go back to the hospital that day. It's all a fog now, a postpartum blur. Today she was marching around in her little high-top sneakers, picking up hard-boiled eggs and strawberries, and waving to everyone. A year is a very long time, even if it goes really, really fast.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

What's the liturgical name for the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? I know there's got to be a name for it. Sad Saturday? I know Palm Sunday and Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday, but I can't recall if I ever heard a name for today.

It was gray and cold today, the day before a too-early Easter. We walked the girls up to the grocery store and splurged on steaks. "Where do you want to go to church tomorrow?" I asked my husband. "We have to go to church."

He said, "I just want to go somewhere that won't make me angry," and then named a church in the city where a friend of ours had had a memorial service this winter.

"I dunno, parking's going to be a bitch," I said. "What about the presbyterian place I used to go when I was a kid?"

"Parking won't be any better there," he replied. "See, this is the problem with going to churh on Easter. It's like going out on Saturday night. Everyone else is thinking the same thing."

"I know," I said, "but you have to do it. If there's one day a year you go to church, it has to be Easter."

There's something about Easter. For one thing, it's got the best name of any holiday. For another, eggs are involved. And finaly, JESUS DIED on Easter. Now, I can be glib and irreligious and snide about the Catholics and the Evangelicals or whatever, but the fact is, I believe in the importance of Easter. I dunno whether it was Sunday school or my weirdo Baptist relatives or what, but some little nagging part of me thinks that if I don't show up for church on Easter, of all days, God will be displeased.

And besides, Easter is the only day when it's acceptable to wear a fancy hat.

Walking back up the hill from the grocery store I noticed how the daffodil leaves are starting to sprout from the neighbors' nicely landscaped lawns. The baby smiled when a breeze blew across her face. And Amanda walked her bike up the hill beside us, us with our groceries tied to the stroller, wearing her cheerful red helmet and mary janes. I thought about the beginning of things, about fresh starts and clean spring air. About the ways that it might be possible to change, even now, on this nameless day before an Easter that arrived too soon.

Friday, March 25, 2005

I used to think I liked cats, but I know now that they're nothing but trouble. My first cat, Pasha, was a smoke persian given to me on my 16th birthday in an attempt by my parents to make up for all the pets who ended up "living on a farm in the country." Pasha was constantly irritated--maybe by his flat nose, or maybe he was just born that way--and he used to poop in my Doc Martens when he was feeling disaffected, which was usually. I'll never forget the night I came home, drunk from vodka cranberries at Buddy's, to find Pasha yowling and dragging his ass across my mother's oriental rug. I hauled him into the bathroom where I discovered he was trying, usuccessfully, to pass a hairball. I tried to clean him up, while trying not to barf, until my mother stormed in in her nightgown and knee-high boots (she claimed we had a flea problem) and screamed "WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT CAT AND HAVE YOU BEEN DRINKING LITTLE MISS?" We ended up at the Pet E.R. til four in the morning while the vet pulled shit out of Pasha's butt-fur. I didn't get grounded, though, which was a plus.

When I left home at 18, my mother thought I was too irresponsible to take Pasha, whose grooming bills alone ran into the thousands of dollars, so I stupidly went out and found myself another cat. Max stole my heart in an East Baltimore rowhouse, where this peroxide blonde was running a shady, off-the-books "recuse" organization. I paid an exorbitant amount of money for the little hairball, only to find out that the woman had been allowing him to lick camphor or Borax or something. Not only was my initial vet bill more than my rent, the damn cat ended up being feebleminded (or, as I liked to say, "special".) He spent his entire first year nursing on a teddy bear I'd brought from home, accompanied by horrible slurping noises.

But I stuck by Max, even though he developed suicidal tendencies early on. His first serious attempt happened at my third-floor walkup on Charles Street, a two-room apartment where the carpet smelled like pee and my kitchen overlooked an air shaft. Max jumped out the front window because my idiot boyfriend had left the screen out so he could smoke ganj while I was at work. I was heartbroken; Max was missing, and he might be hurt, and whatever would I do?

I'd made friends with the local winos, so I enlisted their help in looking for Max and posting fliers around the neighborhood. Our efforts paid off three days later, when my downstairs neighbor--a blowsy hairdresser who was way into hip-hop--reported that Max had been in her apartment all along, but wouldn't emerge from under the bed. Turned out he had a smashed leg from his three-story fall, and the vet had to put six pins in his leg. $1000 later, Max was back to normal, except for the fact that he limped and held his paw up at an odd, somewhat gay angle all the time. Oh yeah, and he was even more feebleminded, and had taken to pooping in my suitcase.

But Max wasn't about to stop trying to commit hari-kari; no, just because he'd failed once didn't mean he would fail again. A few years later, when I got married (not to the idiot who left the screen out, thank god), I brought Max with me, much to my husband's dismay. And Max's dismay, frankly; the cat never did like men. We lived in a ramshackle old house in Hamilton, and Max, being feebleminded, took it into his head to go on walkabout. We found him a couple of days later, with nothing wrong with him but that very same leg he'd broken in the fall all smashed up again.

When we took him to the vet, they were amazed. "We don't know WHAT could have bent those steel pins!" the marveled, while examining his X-rays. "But it's going to be very expensive to patch him up." Again I ponied up the cash, and this time he got a whole new leg made entirely of steel, which he would wave at us stiffly as if to say "Please! Please! Stop with the interventions!"

My husband had had enough of the damn cat at this pointn and my friend Katrina had developed an odd affection for the little beast. One night, when Katrina was over patting him and cooing, Nick siezed on the opportunity and said, "Hey! Why don't you take him home?" And Katrina said, "I could NEVER take Max away from Claire!" And I replied, "Well, sure you could!" (Trying not to sound too eager.) "Only promise that if you ever can't have him, you'll just send him back to me, and I'll take him back."

That was the beginning of a joint custody agreement that's lasted seven years. I took Max back when Katrina was living in the dorms in grad school, and when she went to New York to organize disgruntled adjuncts at the New School. But he's been in DC with her now for over a year, pooping on her roommate's bed and huddling uncertainly in her backyard, and I have to say I'm glad.

I'm twice as glad because my husband decided at some point that it would be good to adopt the creature known only as "Thatfuckingcat"--a wiry little girl tabby whose sole purpose in life seems to be loudly mousing and purposefully waking up the baby. Amanda had originally named the cat Helpy, but soon enough the cat demonstrated that she was supremely unhelpful. She sits in our chairs, and claws up the furniture, and meows loudly to be let in. Before she was fixed, she was a mating machine, her cries of desire heard throughout the neighborhood til 3am. She's obsessed with the baby and spends all her free time trying to get in the crib. Mattie the Nanny has even created a tagline for the cat: "Helpy: The Not Helpful Cat."

But now even that monkier has been discarded and she's just "Thatfuckingcat." All one word, delivered with as much vitriol as possible.

So, you know what, I'm done with cats. I know I've got a solid twenty more years with Thatfuckingcat, and maybe a few visitation months with Max, til the poor simple thing passes on, but from now on I'm gonna be all about dogs. Cats are too sensitive and, frankly, mean-spirited for my taste.

Think about this: if you were their size, and they were your size, what do you think would happen? Yup. They'd bat you around and toy with your broken body til they were bored. This is the mentality we're dealing with here. No more cats for me.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

I feel vaguely guilty all the time. There's always something I'm not doing. Either I'm focusing on work and ignoring the children, or I'm focusing on the children and ignoring the husband, or focusing on my husband and children and work and neglecting the household. And forget about extra stuf like exercise, or my extended family, or the cats, or writing absolutely anything but this blog.

The simple fact of the matter: there's too much to be done, and not enough time to do it in. Ever.

Sometimes I can let it go, mentally, but more often I'm plagued by anxiety, tummyaches, and irritability. My first line of defense is to look for a scapegoat: it's got to be SOMEONE's fault that life is this hectic. Usually that fails and I'm left feeling even more guilty for being so unfair. And then I become angry--what happened to my life, my dreams? Do other people get to fulfill their dreams while maintaining a family life? How do they do it? Am I just really undisciplined?

I'm thinking the culprit is sleep. If I never needed to sleep, then I'd be totally fine. Think of what 6 to 8 extra hours could do for my life! I'd have this place organized to within an inch of its life, my novel would be finished, the children would be perfectly attended to, my job would be totally under control, and my husband would get that backrub he so richly deserves but which, at the end of the day, I just can't give him. And also, I'd finish the taxes.

But that's never going to happen, and so I guess I'm going to have to muddle through the rest of my life being imperfect and feeling irresponsible about it all.

Doggy is more eloquent on the Schiavo case than almost any of the articles I've read in the national media. I wish I could've said something like this instead of being glib and angry.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

What is with this Terry Schiavo feeding tube thing? Am I a moron who just doesn't get why this should be such a BFD? Don't these kinds of decisions get made all the time? Why did she become such a magnet for the religious kooks of the world?

More than anything, the whole situation reminds me of the (underrated) movie Citizen Ruth. Laura Dern plays a hapless huffer who gets roped into being a poster child in the abortion wars. Both the right and the left are portrayed as fools who promote their respective ideologies above all human feeling or sense of justice. I don't remember what happens in the end, but this poor comatose woman being used for political ends reminds me of nothing so much as that movie.

Only it was a comedy. And really there's nothing the least bit funny about this.

There's this cultural idiom I really just don't get--that loaded word "life." Everything is about "life." Is this really all code for abortion? Because these same people don't seem to mind when people are put to death by the criminal justice system, with or without a fair trial. They don't seem to mind when we go to war. So it's obviously not about "life" as you and I understand it--the assumption that we all have the right to walk around and breathe. No, it appears that some people ought to be allowed to walk around and breathe, and some people shouldn't.

But who gets to decide that, and on what basis? I suppose that's where I'm perplexed. What criteria are these people using to make life and death decisions? I guess a subset of them thinks that God talks directly to them, and another subset believes there's a set of rules that can be followed, and another subset lets W. and his cronies decide, and another subset listens to their preacher or whatever.

I wonder what would happen if they found out Terry Schiavo had had an abortion at some point in her life. Would she then be worthy of "life"?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Last night we headed over to Jess and George's. They're the parents of Ava's boyfriend Jack, so we have a lot of wedding planning to do together for the next 25 years or so.

George made an excellent Spanish tortilla, which is kind of like a fluffy crustless quiche with potatoes and onions, and we settled in for a hot night of pictionary. Jessica and I have known each other since we were 12, and back in the day we were perhaps the biggest troublemakers in town. Jessica was so bad that one time her parents took her to the Northern District police station and tried to drop her off, but the cops wouldn't take her. And I... well, hell, let Jess get her own blog and tell stories on me, I'm not fessing up to anything.

So there's something just a wee bit odd about sitting around in her beautiful house with our husbands, the babies sleeping upstairs, playing pictionary on a Saturday night.

Be that as it may, we decided to play boys against girls, and the girls lost badly. In fact, I would say we had our asses handed to us on a platter. They made it around the board in about ten minutes, and the weirdest part of it all was watching their psychic mindlink!

I dunno if it's because all men think alike, or Nick nd George think alike or what. These two have been in the same room maybe ten times, whereas Jess and I have known each other going on 20 years, and yet the two of them were on the exact same wavelength.

George would draw two lines and Nick would be like "Cowboy hat!" and George would be like "Yes!" Or Nick would draw something that looked like a turkey drumstick and George would be like "Ultrasound!" Jess and I are all, "Ultrasound? Ultrasound? HOW did you get that?" and George is like "Oh, come on, how could that not be a pregnant woman?" pointing to the drawing of the turkey drumstick.

Jess and I just looked at each other. And lost, badly and quickly.

By ten p.m. we were wiped out, like the elderly parents we are, and so we packed up the kids and headed for home. Gone are the days when Jess and I used to drive around town in her mother's Acura, looking for boys to corrupt. And I don't really miss it, because watching, perplexed, as our husbands beat us at pictionary is actually far more entertaining.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

It's SPRING! So we did what anyone in their right mind would do and headed out for a day of mudpies, bicycles, scooters, running, swinging, and gardening.

Queen Bee plopped down on her bottom in the middle of the playground today and proceeded to try and eat woodchips. I kept saying "No no, Bee, no no" until eventually she'd bring a woodchip up to her mouth and hold it there and shake her head violently back and forth. I could see her powerful internal struggle: "I want to eat the woodchip! But I mustn't eat the woodchip! But I WANT TO EAT THE WOODCHIP!"

The husband brought out the giant leaf blower, so we could get a gander at the crocuses hiding under the pile of leaves. There's something simutaneously comical and yet strangely hot about a man with a leafblower. The giant erect tube sticking out of the front, the loudness, the power-tool aspect.... I was like "Heeheeheehee lookit you!... Hey, wait a minute, get over here, you sexy thing!"

We sucked up all the leaves and now the yard looks kind of bare, but I remember now what's in the ground just waiting: the perennial pinks, irises, tulips, those white flowers I can't remember the name of, lilies, royal hostas, asters, bee balm, daffodils, phlox, stonecrop. Hundreds of trips to the garden center over the past five years, me not knowing what I was doing at first but slowly getting a feel for the yard, for the play of light and shade, for the temparature of the ground and a sense of the soil. It still comes nowhere near being a great garden, but it has its moments of extreme prettiness, and I did it all myself, which is worth something.

Soon it will be azalea time, and we will sit out on the patio drinking wine after work, and the children will run up and down the street, their voices echoing while it gets darker. I will tend my garden lazily, and keep one eye on the children, and all will be right with the world once again.

Friday, March 18, 2005

So, I hit the Blogger Happy Hour last Wednesday and felt like a complete loser. I wasn't in a very sociable mood to begin with, having just started my job, which is constant socializing-with-strangers and very draining. And once I was in there, I realized I really didn't have anything to say to a bunch of strangers.

When I got there, Sweetney was lingering by the front door in a very cute hat with ears, nervous to go in. We mustered up our courage and found ourselves at the bar surrounded by a rowdy group of drunken firefighters. Leslie came in soon after, also in a hat--where's my damn hat? I need a hat--and we all headed upstairs with Ben, who swears up and down that his site is not a blog and he just showed up because the Baltimore Crimeblogger invited him.

So there we were, a group of people who conducts a huge part of their relationships online, faced with the prospect of actual socializing, and I ended up struck with social anxiety disorder as bad as any I suffered at middle-school mixers. We eventually made our way downstairs and there weren't really seats for ay of us. Sweetney and Leslie made the best of it, jumping right in and having actual conversations, but at some point soon into the whole thing I realized I just did not have it in me. I'm normally incredibly social--it's actually a job requirement for me--but for some reason this group of people, who all seemed to know each other and didn't seem all that interested in knowing anyone new, totally intimidated me.

I bailed on the whole thing--Sweetney and Leslie, bless 'em, stayed out and I'm glad they did--and headed over to the Crimeblogger's house. She was cleaning out her cabinets so I watched her do that for a while, got a call from XLT to see what my take on the situation was, and headed home for a good night's sleep.

I did learn a few things, though. First of all, I don't do this thing because I want the whole world to read it, or because I want more friends. I have enough friends. If it just so happens that some of them are bloggers, that is merely because we are mostly stealth nerds. Second, the whole "blogosphere" thing is incredibly overrated. Third, I can be really fucking shy sometimes. I've worked my whole life to overcome my shyness and I guess it's still there. And finally, I don't want to go to any more blogging happy hours. If I want to go have a drink, I will call up someone on the phone and meet them for one.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I'm going to the balti-bloggy-happy-hour tomorrow night and if you're local, you need to go too. Yeah, yeah, the kids, the house, the job... whatever. Go have a drink or five for once in your life. Bet me 25 cents against me on a game of pool, which I will lose.

I'm not sure how the whole thing works--will I need a little nametag that says "HELLO! My name is homeofdismay"? Will I take a gander at my blogging brethren and promptly hide in the corner with Sweetney and the Crimeblogger? Will I meet people I have never met before, about whose lives I know far too much for a complete stranger? "Oh, hi, I'm Claire. Soooo.... how's that little marital problem?"

I will report back tomorrow, if I haven't had too many cocktails (and by cocktails, I mean Miller High Lifes, the champagne of beers.)

Monday, March 14, 2005

A day in the life of the Home of Dismay:

6am
Queen Bee is learning how to talk. Loudly, in the crib. No sense postponing the inevitable--it's gonna be bottle time soon. Poke husband in the ribs (same poke as when he's snoring--he's kind of used to it now). "Ugh?" he says, but in his superfine way gets up and makes a bottle of formula for the little miss. (He can't resist the ladies!)

7am
Stumble downstairs and chug some cranberry juice, smoke cigarette in basement. Hope that no one wakes up for a little while so I don't have to speak.

7:20
Household begins to rouse, slowly but surely. Much grumbling. At least I washed Amanda's uniform last night. I feel so organized!

8am
Mattie Poppins arrives. She has swollen glands and can't speak. Calls my mother to see if she wants the Queen Bee for a while, so she can go home and recover. Mattie Poppins is remarkable in many ways, not least of which is the fact that she is ill at least as much as The Husband. She reports that the box lacrosse match she went to in Philly was nowhere near as exciting as it should have been.

9am
At my desk, which borders dangerously on the kitchen. The receptionist spends a lot of time in the kitchen, and tends to use my cube-mate's phone as though it's her very own phone, at her very own desk. She does not use my phone this way, which I attribute to my ability to deliver withering looks.

12pm
In the weeds. The new job seems to entail listening to everyone's problems. I find the Russian programmer's problems especially poignant. What is it about the Russians? All of life is a great, existential tragedy. When he tells me the clients actually call him directly, I feel as though my soul is being torn apart. I would do anything to stop his pain! And yet I suspect the pain is so deep, it can nevr be ameliorated.

1:30pm
Lunch to celebrate one of the boys' 25th birthday. I realize I am the oldest person on the team. Feel momentarily sad, then superior. After all, if I'm losing my looks, at least I'm gaining wisdom in exchange. Or something.

5:50pm
A meeting that was scheduled for 5:30 finally takes place. I'm not sure who in their right mind schedules a meeting at 5:30 but I'm going with it. I sit on the floor and then realize I have a hole in my tights. Quelle horreur.

6:40pm
Go to The Mother's to pick up the Queen Bee and snarf down some tenderloin and Caesar salad. Try to be nice to my Future Stepfather. Isn't there a statute of limitations on stepparents? I mean, after 18, aren't you incapable of having a stepparent? The Bee has been won over by The Mother. When I walk in (normally an occasion for handclapping and joy) she merely looks at me, nonplussed, and turns to The Mother. Suddenly her face is wreathed in smiles! I realize that they have been giving her hundreds of pieces of white bread and letting her play with the cell phone and paint-color chips all day.

8pm
Home again. Amanda is over at the neighbors, where they prepare special "children's meals" (e.g. mac and cheese). Evidently she is also dressed as a Druid, carrying a mock-scythe, and playing "Dr. Doomsday" with the neighborhood children. (She is "Mrs. Doomsday." Huzzah!) Husband has been drinking coffee & is cheerful. Consider going to bed early; abandon the idea. Talk to husband about superstring theory, which neither of us understands in the remotest way.

9pm
Spend some time reading other people's blogs; realize how smart everyone else is; undergo crisis of confidence (5 minutes). Put all children to bed. Smoke a few cigarettes. Think about blogging. Blog. Erase. Blog again.

11pm
Where the FUCK did this night go? I can't believe it's bedtime. No, wait. I can't believe I have a bedtime! I thought being an adult was all about having cake for dinner and staying up til 3am! Dammit! My wasted youth. I'm wasting it as I write! Goodbye, another day, goodbye!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Ugh. Debbie and dogfaceboy are so right on this, I'm so wrong. In my 'hood we have a lot of republican assholes with impeccable taste. They all shop at the fancy grocery store, women in expensive shoes elbowing each other out of the deli line in their quest for proscuitto, climbing into their suburbans with the lacrosse stickers and W: The President bumper stickers.

But this other subset--the tacky one--also exists. And I can't help but wonder what these two groups have in common--the upscale conservative assholes and the downmarket variety? What possible common cause do these two groups think they have?

At least the rich Republicans are being honest. Yes, W. actually does have their best interests at heart. But the other type of conservative--Joe Sixpack--needs to wake up and read the writing on the wall. I suppose that's why the populist variety of conservative enrages me even more than the honest-to-god ruling-elite variety.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

I hate to admit it, but I think my disgust with the right wing is more aesthetic than political. There's just something so unappealing about country music, NASCAR, the architecture of megachurches, suburban strip malls, pee-wee football, golf, and giant TVs.

This is why all the soul-searching among progressives will come to naught. You read these blogs, they're all like, "We have to be more populist, more inclusive! We have to talk about God more and reclaim ownership of family values!" or whatever.

But that means being more like THEM, and they're.... well... tacky.

OK, I said it. The right wing is tacky. Their clothes aren't as cool, their movies are lame, they eat at Applebees. They give their children literlly cheesy fake family names like Colby. I don't quite understand the connection--why so many on the right are so unhip--but it's overwhelmingly true. And as much as I hate their war-mongering, misogynistic, demonically selfish policies, I also hate their taste.

This is the true front line of the culture wars. It's not Janet Jackson's nipple or religion. It's really about brand identity. We're Target, they're Wal-Mart. We're Lemony Snicket, they're Disney.

Yes, I know I'm being a horrible snob. Bring it on, I can handle it.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

I am a stealth nerd. And you probably are one too.

Stealth nerds look like something else on the outside. Me, I look like a yuppie advertising woman. I have the blonde French twist, the high-heeled boots, the cute skirt. I may betray my nerdiness in various behaviors or gestures, but I've figured out how to hide my nerdiness walking down the street, at the very least, and in client meetings.

I know other stealth nerds--many of them women, just because it's easier for women to disguise their true selves through clothes and makeup--but men too. And all of them look like something else and even seem like something else until you get talking to them and suddenly discover they're really, really into grammar, or artificial intelligence, or word origins, or robots, or whatever.

And then you realize, with a shock of recognition and joy: a fellow nerd!!

It's not enough just to be smart and look cool at the same time. That doesn't make you a nerd--that makes you a graphic designer. You have to be a little obsessive. And on the inside you have to still FEEL like a nerd. A bit alienated and socially inept.

Here's a simple test. You might be a stealth nerd if:

1. ...you get your nails done weekly--and attempt to speak to the manicurist in her native language.
2. ...while waiting at the bar for your group of friends, you read The Brothers Karamazov.
3. ...the first computer game you ever played was one of those text-based choose your own adventure games... and you still, though you'd never admit it, wish you could play it again.
4. ...until you were thirteen, you had no use for pop music. And nowadays you listen to the Shins.
5. ...you ever read the dictionary for fun.
6. ...you blog.
7. ...you ever wrote a cultural studies paper.
8. ...you go to your high school reunion and the guy you have the most in common with is that AV guy you never ever spoke to, who now works on web sites and actually turned out to be pretty cool.
9. ...your favorite date is Library Date, where you go to the library and follow it up with beer-drinking, only you call it the "liberry."

Oh, there are more signs. Comments, please, from all stealth nerds--you know who you are!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Since when did homework become a family event? My daughter came home with three assignments today, all of which involved great amounts of parental effort.

The first assignment didn't even make any g*d sense. She was given a list of words, which she then had to copy. All well and good, although she is far beyond copying words like "shoe," but whatever. But then, the directions go on to say, we parents are supposed to write letters on a piece of paper, cut them out, and use them like Scrabble tiles to rearrange them into the list of words. Why, god, why?

I normally go along with whatever silly scutwork they put in these worksheets, figuring there's some obscure pedagogical reason for all of it, but this one just exasperated me. "No!" I said. "We're not doin' it. I'm writing a note. What kind of busywork is this? Three hours to cut out letters? Who does that help?"

Thinking I'd gotten through the worst of it, I began preparing dinner while carrying the baby n my hip and singing "Baby Beluga." Then I hear, "Mumma, I need help with this one too."

Now this worksheet said that three people in the family needed to get together and pretend to be Tim, Jim, and Kim. (Kim, of course, being the token Asian in the accompanying line drawing.) We had to make NAMETAGS, I kid you not, and ACT OUT EVERY PERMUTATION OF A THREE-PERSON FOOTRACE.

I don't even know where to begin. A footrace at six o' clock at night? In the middle of winter? With a baby on my hip? Not just one footrace but, let's see, three to the third would be NINE footraces? Not to mention the making of nametags and the transcription of race results onto the little politically correct worksheet? And what if we were a single parent household, would we have to enlist the baby or the cat as our third runner?

Uh-uh. My husband sat down with her and taught her to do it the right way, on paper, by process of elimination. For god's sake if the kid is ever going to ace her LSAT's, she'd better not be acting out all the problems in the Games section. Can you see her in the aisles of the testing center? "Okay, you be Juan. Now, you're Tyrone. I'm Betty.... here are three apple slices and one orange..."

OK, surely it's over now, I think to myself, until my husband comes in with another piece of paper, sighing. "We now have to mark down all the fruits and vegetables Amanda eats," he says, "for a week. And she's supposed to eat five a day." Here he pauses. "I can't even THINK of five vegetables, can you?"

I was just putting the finishing touches on Amanda's plate, which until that moment, I thought looked pretty damn good. A chicken tender, lettuce with salad dressing, and pasta pesto. Suddenly, I looked at it and realized how remiss I'd been as a parent, how remiss I have always been. "Does basil count?" I asked. "It's green, it grows in the ground!"

In desperation I threw two baby carrots on the plate and a stalk of celery. "Amanda, did you eat ANY OTHER fruits or vegetables today?" I asked, trying to make three into five.

"Um, there was tomato sauce on my pizza!" she said brightly. "And I had some pineapple!" Whew! I was out of the woods.

Until tomorrow, anyway.

Monday, March 07, 2005

My first day at my new job was great! The official job description I received, in my little packet of information, involved a lot of three-syllable words. But I think the actual job description is "wranglin' 6 boys into shape." I was born to wrangle 6 boys into shape. My career path was doomed from the start: if I didn't end up a project manager, I'd be either a personal trainer or a therapist. God help me.

We'll see how it all plays out. Either everyone was just being especially great today because it's my first day, and they will later pull off their human masks to reveal weird giant skulls... or maybe they're just nice. C'mon... it's possible!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

I start a new job tomorrow. Yes, yes, I know, I just started my last job. But it was fairly obvious from week one at that job that it was just wrong for me, so why prolong the misery? I went out and found myself a nice, shiny new job, and for some reason I'm not the least bit nervous about my first day.

All I know about my new job is:
1. I'll be the only person doing my particular job. Which means either I'll be working til 8pm every night, or else I'll be happy because I have total control, or most likely both.
2. They have a deck where in the summer, evidently, they invite clients to hang out and drink with them. Drinking with clients sounds like a bad idea to me. Maybe all the client service people have to drink kiddie cocktails and the clients get drunk--that would be a much better idea. The whole point of account services is maintaining your inibitions, after all.
3. They have a pool table. I really like playing pool, but I'm not sure I want to play pool in the office. What if I wear too short of a skirt on Pool Day? What if I lose all the time? What if I win all the time?
4. I have finally gotten to the point in my career where anywhere I go, I've worked with someone there before. So I know a handful of people at this new place, and keep trying to remember what my past interactions with them have been. But by now all the clients and all the accounts and all the ADs and writers blend together in my brain into one giant ad campaign, running perpetually.

I'll keep everyone posted, provided I make it home before 8pm.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


ava and jack kiss
Originally uploaded by clairerb.
This is Ava's boyfriend Jack. He's a younger man and can't walk yet, which is just fine with her. That way he cannot escape her kisses.


meat dept
Originally uploaded by clairerb.
We saw a beef tongue in the meat department. It was icky.


baby food dept
Originally uploaded by clairerb.
Groery shopping can be fun. Yum, carrots.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

I was driving yesterday to pick my older daughter up from school, and the baby was fussing in the back seat. Nothing seemed to make her happy--not a bottle, not a binky, not some nice soothing classical music. "Ehhh ehhh ehhh," she'd say to all the music I chose, and shake her head violently back and forth as if to say, "No! I hate that!"

And then the dial settled on 92Q and it was a Slow Jam. And she quieted right down and stared out the window.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that if there's one kind of music I cannot stand, it is the Slow Jam. I find Slow Jams slightly less pleasant than, say, whining. The endless drawn-out vowels--"Baaaaa-ay-ay-ay-aaaaa-ay-ay-ay-ahhhhhh-beeeeee"--the lack of coherent melody, the trite lyrics ("Baby I loooo-o-o-o-o-o-ve yoo-hoo-hoo")... I just can't stand it. I'm sure this makes me very white or whatever, but let's just get that out of the way--yes, I am very white. And I hate the slow jams.

But the Queen Bee LOVES the slow jams. Nothing else will calm her, it seems. And so I drove for twenty whole minutes listening to the Slow Jams, looking at her in the rear view mirror and watching her bliss out. And realized, slowly but surely, that I have a whole 18 years of Slow Jams ahead of me.

And yet somehow I don't mind, because it makes her happy.

If this isn't true parental love, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

It's garbage day and that damn border collie Bert has struck again.

I come out of my house all ready to sweep the car off and there's my garbage, all over the street. Dirty diapers, beer bottles, empty packages of cereal and meat, strewn across the lovely snowscape of Matterhorn Lane.

"FUUUUUUUCK!" I think to myself, but don't say it. Instead, in the tradition of martyrs everywhere, I pull on a pair of rubber gloves and sigh, loudly, hoping someone will hear.

Luckily enough, one of my neighbors was walking up the street, having parked his car downhill in anticipation of the storm. Unluckily, though, he is married to the most maniacal "Bert Fan" on the street. The woman who speaks about Bert more fondly than she does her own children. The woman who, though she does not own Bert, put up the fliers all over town, hoping for his ill-fated return.

I sigh loudly again for this husband's benefit. He looks at me quizically (as if having my garbage all over the street is not enough to make me sigh, but whatever.)

"It's Bert again!" I say in that fake-bright-and-cheerful voice that one reserves for the most dire circustances, thinking he might sympathize or even say "Oh, I know, that dog is a menace, and what is UP with my insane wife's slavering affection for that monster?"

But no. "Uh," he says, "you think?" As though I might be crazy! As though anyone else lets their dog out without a leash! As though a chipmunk might be able, in seven inches of snow, to knock over a thirty gallon trashcan and pry its lid off, eat only discarded chicken bones, and leave the rest for us suckas!

My wonderful husband comes out and says "I'll clean it up." So I say, OK. And he pulls on the gloves and after about five seconds of picking up rotten garbage, beseeches heaven, "FUUUUCK! I HATE YOUR FUCKING DOG! BERT, ROT IN HEEEELLLL! AND BY THE WAY IT IS ILLEGALLLL! TO LET YOUR DOG OFF THE LEASH TO ROOT AROUND IN OTHER PEOPLE'S GARBAGE!"

Of course I was inexplicably embarassed and told him to come inside. I hate this dog as much as he does, but somehow having my husband curse at the heavens during rush hour seemed totally inappropriate. And yet he said everything I wanted to say and couldn't, in my weak-ass martyrdom and indecision.